REGINA - The provincial government has announced further measures for oversight of registered independent schools in Saskatchewan.
The province announced Thursday it is bringing in new amendments to The Registered Independent Schools Regulations and The Education Funding Regulations, 2018, which take effect in the fall.
According to the province, beginning in the fall of 2023 the requirements for independent schools will include mandatory administrative policies similar to those in place at Saskatchewan school divisions. Such policies include an attendance policy, an extracurricular policy and a parent complaints and grievances policy.
Other changes include requirements for all registered independent schools to have a defined separation of duties between its board, its director and principal. What it means is the school principal cannot also be on the board.
Also, beginning in 2024-25 all qualified independent schools and certified independent schools must be registered as a separate non-profit organization from any parent organization. As well, because these will be separate legal entities there will be enhanced financial reporting requirements.
Education Minister Dustin Duncan explained the rationale behind the latest changes in speaking to reporters at the Legislature Thursday. He said the changes came through ongoing dialogue the ministry had with the trustees/administrators that were put in place over the last number of months to oversee qualified independent schools.
“I think there was an acknowledgement that there’s some ideas around good governance that the schools should be implementing that will be just a matter of their daily and yearly business in the academic year," Minister Duncan said.
He said they wanted to make sure all the schools had an administrative policy handbook, to ensure that there is a “distinct legal entity that is running the schools separate from the parent organization,” and that the principal should not be on the board of directors. “That’s just good governance practice,” Duncan said.
As for what these changes will be able to accomplish, Duncan said in the event there is a complaint that has to be escalated beyond the principal at the school, it “can now go to a board that doesn’t include the principal,” Duncan said.
These changes also address the challenges of trying to distinguish “what is a parents organization’s financials and what is a school’s financials. So this will just provide that real distinct view of the financial situation at the school.”
The province had already enhanced oversight of qualified independent schools in the wake of the scandal at Legacy Christian Academy, formerly Christian Centre Academy, in Saskatoon this summer. A number of former students who attended the school have filed a court action against it, alleging exorcisms, paddling, and abuse there.
In the aftermath of the allegations, the government changed the rules in order to appoint administrations to oversee the schools, to increase supervision, and also have the ability to put schools on probation, among others. Three administrators were appointed to oversee three of the qualified independent schools in question: Legacy Christian Academy, Grace Christian School, and Regent Christian Academy of Prince Albert. In the case of Grace Christian School, the school was closed down by the province after officials there refused to cooperate.
Duncan said that of the three administrators, the one responsible for Grace Christian School left after the school’s closure, at which time he helped the students find other placements. The second administrator appointed to oversee Regent Christian Academy has since left on their own recommendation, on the basis they felt their work was complete and the school no longer needed an administrator.
As for Legacy Christian Academy, an administrator is still in place there, but the individual in that position has changed in the past number of months, with the new administrator having 30 years experience.
Opposition Education critic Matt Love welcomed the amendments, but he noted his party had been concerned about the lack of regulation of qualified independent schools for some time.
“We have raised for a number of months the lack of regulation that we believe is one of the causes of the allegations that we are hearing. A lack of oversight, A lack of professional teachers in the classroom, the lack of financial reporting the lack of accountability in the schools that exist…” said Love.
“So yes, I support this move. What I’d like to know, they’ve given us an answer today — I need the minister to show his work, what led to it. I’d like to see any recommendations in reports created by the three administrators put in place at qualified independent schools to be made public so we see what led to these changes. These changes are long overdue, but we need to see the process that led to this.”