Sask. advocate for children and youth to investigate registered independent schools Pipa News

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The Saskatchewan Children and Youth Advocate launches a full investigation into the services and oversight of registered independent schools following allegations of abuse by former Saskatoon Christian School students.

“The scale of the allegations of abuse and the number of issues raised both in the public forum and in the analysis of information collected by my office over the past few weeks influenced my decision to conduct a full independent investigation,” said children’s lawyer Lisa Broda. . said in a press release on Tuesday.

More than 30 former students of Christian Center Academy (now Christian Heritage Academy) in Saskatoon claim to have been subjected to years of physical abuse, solitary confinement, exorcism and forced political campaigning staff and leadership of the school and adjacent church. None of these allegations were proven in court.

Broda released a statement on August 19 calling the allegations “very disturbing” and indicating that she would look into the matter.

“I admire the strength and courage of those who have raised these questions in defense of themselves and the children and youth currently served by the education system,” Broda said.

Earlier this month, a group of former students filed a $25 million class action lawsuit.

Following news of the lawsuit, the Department of Education stepped up oversight of three schools, including Heritage Christian Academy. All schools had one or more of the employees named in the lawsuit.

Last week, one of those schools, Saskatoon’s Grace Christian School, was stripped of its provincial certification. Its director worked at the Christian Center Academy at the time of the alleged abuse and is one of the individuals named in the lawsuit.

Broda studied all the information received by the Ministry of Education and decided to investigate.

“Issues relating to registered independent schools have been a primary concern since allegations of violence became known to our office in early August. My legislative mandate is to ensure that all services provided to children comply with the laws, regulations and policies through which they are provided – and that these instruments and services respect, protect and fulfill the rights of children,” Broda said.

Former student encouraged by news of investigation

Caitlin Erickson, a former Christian Center Academy student, is one of the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit. She and other former students met with the media outside Brody’s office in Saskatoon on August 18 and called for an investigation.

Speaking to the CBC on Tuesday, Erickson said she hopes the lawyer will make recommendations to the government.

“It is becoming quite clear that there are several gaps in the oversight of these [schools]. I hope there can be more regulation and oversight.”

Erickson said there were “systemic problems”, including ensuring that students in independent schools receive an education that is equivalent to the public system.

Caitlin Erickson was the first former student at Saskatoon Christian Center Academy, now Heritage Christian Academy, to contact the police. She says the degree of control from school and church officials was like a cult. (Travis Reddaway/CBC)

In addition, she said the government also needs to make sure teachers are certified to teach in these schools and follow the curriculum.

“It’s a systemic culture where religion is placed at the forefront of the student’s educational experience.”

She said religion should not be used “as a form of violence”.

Erickson said she is encouraged that the advocate is looking into the system and hopes it will give students who are currently enrolled the opportunity to share their concerns anonymously.

Minister welcomes investigation and asks schools to cooperate

Education Secretary Dustin Duncan answered questions from the media on Tuesday.

Duncan said the ministry welcomes the investigation and is asking all independent schools that are being investigated by Brody to “cooperate fully.”

Duncan pointed to regulatory changes made by the province earlier this month, including the addition of unannounced ministry visits.

“We want to ensure the safety of students in the schools they attend, and the government provides additional oversight for qualified independent schools.”

Duncan said he could take additional steps to put the school on probation. He said the increased oversight had already led to the closure of Grace Christian School.

Duncan said that while the allegations are “very disturbing”, they “seem to have been made before these schools were under provincial oversight.”

Erickson has previously said she spoke to students who made allegations of abuse as recently as 2012. Duncan said he was aware of two complaints filed in 2016 against a former Heritage Christian Academy employee who later transferred to Grace Christian School.

“My understanding is that the ministry consulted a legal adviser who advised the ministry to refer the person to the police.”

Regarding concerns about students heading to school this week, Duncan said the Saskatoon police will notify the ministry if there are any security concerns.

“The fact that they didn’t notify the Department of Education reassures me that the students are in a safe environment.”

Duncan said he expected the lawyer’s investigation to take six to 10 months and that it was “too early” to say what steps the government would take in response.

He said he would “contact” former students who made allegations of abuse.

“I want to hear from them firsthand what their experience was like.”

Saskatchewan Education Minister Dustin Duncan said his ministry would cooperate with the attorney’s investigation. (Kirk Frazier/CBC)

Opposition leader Karla Beck called on the lawyer to launch an investigation. In a press release on Tuesday, she called the news “long awaited and long overdue.”

Beck said the government mishandled the former students’ claims.

“I sincerely hope that the government of Sask. The party will cooperate with Counsel’s investigation and heed their recommendations. In the meantime, we need answers from Scott Moe and his Minister of Education about their shameful inaction.”

Under the Children and Youth Advocacy Act, an advocate may make recommendations to the government and its agencies to “enhance service delivery” to students in registered independent schools.

A lawyer has no right to investigate criminal cases.

“It is very important that young people are educated in an environment that respects their inherent dignity and the full range of their human rights,” Broda said.

“While several processes are currently underway that address the issues raised by these allegations from different perspectives, an independent lens from a child rights perspective is required to ensure that the education system in Saskatchewan – in all its forms – works in the best interests of the child. at its center.”

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