‘I almost took my life’: why some former church-run school students are calling for change

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‘I almost took my life’: why some former church-run school students are calling for change
Cody Hamilton said change was needed, noting that some kids might not be as strong, and something needs to happen to save them – Nov 14, 2022

Former students of a government-funded, church-run school say they want more oversight for the school.

Cody Hamilton and Janeesa Shirley claim they felt suicidal during their time at Prairie Christian Academy (PCA), claiming the school didn’t provide quality education or enough mental health supports.

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“I almost took my life and knowing how these churches are so isolated and cultish that there is no support for anyone who is going through what I’ve gone through that the only solution in my mind is to shut them down,” Hamilton claimed.

The topic of qualified independent schools (QIS) has been an ongoing discussion in Saskatchewan after historical abuse claims and a lawsuit that has yet to be tested in court came out against another QIS school in Saskatoon.

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Caitlin Erickson, Stefanie Hutchinson and Coy Nolin, former students of Legacy Christian Academy (LCA), filed a lawsuit against Mile Two Church Inc. that operates LCA.

The lawsuit and following news coverage spurred Hamilton and Shirley to come forward about their experiences in PCA.

PCA was not named in the lawsuit.

PCA is listed as a QIS, and according to the province’s public accounts, received $2,688,231 between 2012 and 2020.

Hamilton attended the school from 2000 to 2014, and Shirley attended before the school received government funding, 1996 to 2004.

Global News reached out to the director and principal of PCA, Rene and Amber Boutin, as well as the leaders of the church Faith Alive Family Church, Barb and Brent Rudoski for comment multiple times, but instead received an email from “Directors of Faith Alive Ministries”, who run PCA, which stated “Our counsel has instructed us to remind you we are a Christian, faith-based school entitled by law and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to teach our students love of God out of a theological, anthropological, and moral perspective derived exclusively from what we sincerely hold as Biblical truth. That is what we do. That is what we have always done.”

Global News reached out to Minister of Education Dustin Duncan for an interview with several questions about QISs and received a lengthy statement from the Ministry of Education.

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The Ministry said that independent schools allow for an exemption from public or separate schools, saying that they allow parents to teach their kids in line with their beliefs.

“The Education Act, 1995 makes provision for the registration of independent schools. This provision allows parents/guardians to educate their children in accordance with their conscientious beliefs, which may include faith-based education, and provide them with a legitimate exemption from a public or separate school. All Qualified Independent Schools (QIS) must provide information about their curriculum to make sure that it fits into Saskatchewan’s provincial curricula,” read the statement.

It added that QISs need to follow certain criteria to receive funding, which is 50 per cent of the provincial per-student average.

“These criteria include, but are not limited to, only employing teachers with a Professional “A” teaching certificate regulated by Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board (SPTRB), providing approved courses of study in accordance with provincial curriculum policy, agreeing to be supervised by ministry officials, and complying with all ministry policies and directives. The ministry does confirm teachers’ and principals’ status with the SPTRB.”

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A biology textbook from LCA was brought forward by Erickson to the November 3 Saskatchewan Legislative Building that suggested that dinosaurs and people coexisted.

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When Minister of Education Dustin Duncan was given examples from the textbook, he had said they may have to look at more frequent inspections and reviews of QIS curriculum.

“It has not been raised with me by the ministry in terms of looking at the outcomes of students that the students are not achieving the outcomes set out by the curriculum in Saskatchewan,” Duncan said.

When asked why he wouldn’t remove curriculum such as the textbook, he said the ministry gives out recommendations for resources to be used.

The statement from the ministry also outlined that QISs are required to have one certified professional “A” teacher for every 40 students, and that each student needs to be assigned to one of these certified teachers.

“The school may employ other staff and Professional A teachers in non-teaching roles, such as educational assistants or teaching assistants, however these employees must be under the supervision of the SPTRB registered teacher. Having additional roles in classrooms is a regular practice across the province in public and separate schools, and independent schools.”

The ministry added that QISs are required to provide records of supervision by certified teachers of any non-professional teaching staff, which was something that started for 2022-23.

It said that the ministry “ensures registered independent school staff work in their listed positions through a combination of scheduled and unscheduled visits”.

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“All QIS are visited and monitored closely by the ministry with teachers being supervised a minimum of three times per school year, as well as being required to submit course outlines, samples of individual lesson plans, and yearly plans,” read the statement.

A Ministry spokesperson reached out later and clarified that the number of visits to QISs was updated in August, adding that visits are happening monthly on average.

The annual inspection reports for QISs are not publicly available, so Global News submitted a Freedom of Information request, and received several inspection reports.

The inspection report for PCA in 2011 outlined that SAICS curricula was being realigned with the Ministry of Education’s “foundational Objectives to Student Outcomes and Renewal”.

The report also gives a definition of what the inspection includes.

“Checking compliance with the Act, Regulations and Policy, observing any aspect of the educational activities and operations in a non-directive/unobtrusive way, appreciation and recognition of the distinct philosophical orientation of the school. Inspection does not include responsibility for the recruitment and dismissal of independent school teachers or the selections of programs and courses in an independent school,” read the report.

According to the report, PCA met the standards.

“Prairie Christian Academy provides instruction in the required areas of study and that instruction is appropriate for the age and ability of its pupils, comparable in quality to that of schools and consistent with generally accepted teaching principles,” read the report.

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In 2014, the reports changed. A section stating that supervision was required was added. Supervision included inspection, evaluating the performance of independent school teachers, a recognition of the separate authority of church and state, and an appreciation of the distinct philosophical orientation of each independent school.

Supervision did not include responsibility for the recruitment or dismissal of school teachers or the selection of programs and courses in independent schools.

Since the allegations and lawsuit against Mile Two Church Inc., Duncan said a number of regulation changes for QISs have been greenlit by the cabinet.

One of the changes included the appointment of administrators to three QISs to ensure student safety and wellbeing: Legacy Christian Academy, Regent Academy, and Grace Christian School.

“They will review staff lists and determine if the appropriate staff will continue to provide teaching and other services within the schools, to ensure there is strong communication with parents, and to provide leadership to the school staff,” read a release from the Ministry of Education.

The ministry said a few days later the director of Grace Christian School failed to work with the administrator assigned to them, and the school had its permission to operate revoked.

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“If the government is giving funding to these schools the curriculum needs to be appropriate. At the end of the day, it’s the kids that suffer from all of these decisions being made by adults, kids don’t get to choose where they go to school,” Erickson said back in August.

The Saskatchewan NDP submitted a formal request for an investigation into the provincial government’s response to the LCA abuse allegations, and at the end of August the Saskatchewan Advocate for Children and Youth launched a full investigation into the services and oversight of registered independent schools, which the ministry said they would give their full cooperation to.

Under the authority of The Advocate for Children and Youth Act, the advocate can make recommendations to the ministry and agencies of the government to strengthen service delivery to children and youth in registered independent schools.

Education Critic Matt Love called for the administrator reports on QISs to be released publicly at the Saskatchewan Legislature on November 3.

He also claimed that Minister of Education Dustin Duncan’s timeline surrounding the LCA abuse allegations was false. Duncan stated his office was made aware of the allegations surround LCA in August. Erickson claims she has emails proving his office was made aware earlier than that.

“There’s no debate because I can provide emails. So, there’s an email on June 20, and then I also have a response email back from the Ministry of Education’s office. So, they were aware,” Erickson said.

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Official Opposition Leader Carla Beck questioned “why it took so long to address serious abuse allegations in qualified independent schools” during the legislature.

She also invited three former students of LCA, Caitlin Erickson, Stefanie Hutchinson, and Coy Nolin, and asked Premier Scott Moe if he would meet with the former students that day.

“I’ve reached out to the premier’s office a few times, and no response,” Erickson said.

“Considering I am one of his constituents in his area I find it concerning that I can’t even get an email back from my premier.”

Hamilton said change was needed, noting that some kids might not be as strong, and something needs to happen to save them.

“We need something to be done” stated Hamilton in indicating his view that it would be a tragedy to have kids lost to suicide “because they have no support and no system that recognizes who they are,” Hamilton said.

-With files from Kelly Skjerven, Nathaniel Dove and Andrew Benson


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