REGINA — Education minister Dustin Duncan is bringing in regulatory changes in response to the abuse allegations swirling around Legacy Christian Academy and its predecessor Christian Centre Academy in Saskatoon.
“This morning I am announcing changes to the independent school regulations that cabinet approved yesterday,” Duncan said at a media availability at the legislature Thursday.
Duncan told reporters that there were “some gaps that we have been able to identify” in the registered independent schools regulations.
According to the province, the changes to the regulations will increase accountability of qualified independent schools. It will provide the province the ability to appoint a supervisor to oversee the education of students if they feel it is necessary.
Duncan said in the coming days he will be appointing an administrator into three independent schools for the 2022-23 school year: Legacy Christian Academy, Grace Christian School and Regent Academy.
The province is also increasing the number of unscheduled supervised visits to all independent schools for the 2022-23 school year; the three schools mentioned will see unscheduled visits once a month.
Those three schools were particularly singled out as they each have someone employed who was named in the lawsuit announced this week by former students of the former Christian Centre Academy, now Legacy Christian Academy, in Saskatoon.
Regarding the three schools that are seeing additional supervision, Duncan explained up until now there have been allegations that had been made public, but “until Tuesday there had been no names attached to those allegations until the statement of claim was filed.”
Duncan said he directed his ministry to forward the statement of claim with the names to the Saskatchewan professional teachers' regulatory body. Duncan said there were three individuals named in the claim who were associated with those three schools, so those three schools will have an administrator to essentially administer the schools.
The new regulatory amendments will also allow the education minister to appoint an administrator of a school, put schools on probation, and require all Qualified Independent Schools to notify the ministry within 24 hours of allegations of criminal activity or a criminal charge of a staff member. The ministry can also suspend or cancel an independent school's certification if necessary.
Regarding Legacy Christian Academy, Duncan said that “should additional information come forth forward or depending upon the police investigation that has been in public, if further action is required, I will be taking further action.”
When he was asked what that further action was, Duncan replied “it will depend.”
“At this point the school will open for school in September. We have about 180 students that are registered in that school. An administrator will be in place. So, I would just say in the event that there are other issues that come to light or in the event that there are criminal charges and prosecutions and convictions that obviously we would have to take a look at what options are available. But at this point the school will open.”
Regarding previous statements he made earlier that they would not take action until charges and convictions were made, Duncan said that his response at the time “was more in light of the requests that the school not be funded, which would essentially would close the school."
“It would not be fair to take that step to close the school. Whether it is an independent school or a public school, we hold individuals accountable for their actions. We don’t close schools. Unfortunately, from time to time in the public setting, we have a situation where staff and teachers — there’s allegations made and there are convictions made, but we don’t close the school for that reason alone."
But he did acknowledge some gaps in the powers in the regulations, such as one where he “couldn’t step in, for example, to appoint anybody to essentially run the schools while the investigation was ongoing.” The indication is the amendments will address that.
As for why they are not taking the step of decertifying Legacy Christian Academy right now, Duncan said the allegations are still to be tested in court.
“Again, we will act appropriately if there are further allegations or additions to the statement of claim. But at this time, for the most part it seems (the alleged incidents were) prior to 2012 when they did become regulated.”
He pledged the ministry will provide additional supervisory support and administrative support to ensure that not only the public can feel confident that additional oversight is being provided, but “we want to make sure that first and foremost that all schools including independent schools are safe environment for students but especially for the parents of students enrolled this year.”
Regarding safety of students, Duncan said based on the unannounced supervisory inspections that have already been taking place over the last 10 years, “those inspections have raised no concerns based on the safety of this of the students at this time or have in the past that would’ve required any action at this point.“
Duncan added that when the Education Ministry reached out to Saskatoon Police Service, they indicated that “if the welfare of children at the time are in question or at risk, that the ministry would have been notified by the police, and the ministry was not notified by the police, so based on that I am confident that the children are safe but we are taking the additional steps that we announce this morning.”
As for the allegations against Legacy Christian/Christian Centre Academy, Duncan indicated he was concerned, saying that “troubling allegations have been raised by the former students."
"I’m not a teacher, I’ve never been a school board trustee. But I’m a parent of three kids, and two of them are in the school system now … What I want for my children is what I want for every student in this province as education minister. The allegations are very troubling.”
In his response to the Education Minister's announcement, Official Opposition Education Critic Matt Love demanded a halt to Legacy Christian Academy funding until an investigation into the government’s handling of school abuse allegations is concluded.
“This government’s first priority should be ensuring the safety of our children," Love said in a statement. "To neither shut off the tap to Legacy Christian Academy, nor remove alleged abusers from positions of authority is an utter failure of leadership. Safety of our children is paramount - there’s no room for half-measures and passing the buck.”