Sask. private school connected to abuse allegations shut down after province pulls registration certificate

·3 min read
Saskatoon's Grace Christian School was renting space inside Forest Grove Community Church, but Forest Grove officials announced on their website earlier this month that they were terminating the school's lease, effective September 1. Grace is one of three schools with staff implicated in widespread abuse allegations.  (Don Somers/CBC - image credit)
Saskatoon's Grace Christian School was renting space inside Forest Grove Community Church, but Forest Grove officials announced on their website earlier this month that they were terminating the school's lease, effective September 1. Grace is one of three schools with staff implicated in widespread abuse allegations. (Don Somers/CBC - image credit)

Less than two weeks after Grace Christian School had its building lease terminated for its connection to widespread abuse allegations, the Saskatoon private school was stripped of its provincial approval to operate.

According to the Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, Grace Christian's director "refused to co-operate" on Wednesday with a ministry official and the special administrator the ministry appointed to manage and run the school in the wake of a CBC News investigation.

"Therefore, the Minister of Education cancelled Grace Christian School's certificate of registration in the public interest as the director is a named defendant in the current litigation," the ministry said in an emailed statement Friday morning, referencing a proposed class-action lawsuit recently launched by dozens of former private school students.

Former students of Christian Centre Academy (now known as Legacy Christian Academy), another private school in Saskatoon, allege years of physical abuse, solitary confinement, exorcisms and forced political campaigning by staff and leadership of the school and the adjacent church. None of these allegations have been proven in court.

The director of Grace Christian worked at Christian Centre Academy during the span of the alleged abuse and is one of the people named in the lawsuit.

CBC/Radio-Canada has reached out to the director for comment, but has not received a response.

All but three defendants in the lawsuit had been served as of Friday afternoon, according to the students' legal counsel, Grant Scharfstein.

Once all defendants are served and a judge is appointed, the plaintiffs are hoping to move forward with a hearing to certify the class action, he said, noting that's estimated to be three to four months down the road.

'A very small start'

Stefanie Hutchinson, who attended Christian Centre Academy from 1993 to 2006 and is a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said seeing Grace Christian School shut down is a good step forward for former students like herself.

"We're finally being heard and maybe taking back some autonomy that was lost for so many years — and that's an incredible feeling," she said.

Jérémie Turbide/Radio-Canada
Jérémie Turbide/Radio-Canada

Hutchinson said the government revoking the school's registration certificate leaves her hopeful that the appointed administrators' work can be meaningful.

However, she said she's still concerned about how much the other schools — Legacy Christian Academy and Regent Academy — will co-operate.

"I have my concerns about how realistic a picture these administrators are going to have of the schools," she said. "They're going to do everything they can to obviously hide anything that might make them look bad."

Caitlin Erickson, the first former student to openly file a police report about the alleged abuse, said this move is "a very small start to a lot of other things that need to be tackled," adding that it's "just the beginning."

Erickson and Hutchinson both said private schools need more oversight in Saskatchewan — especially when it comes to curricula and the hiring of certified teachers.

"At the end of the day, it's kids who are suffering from decisions being made by adults," Erickson said.

"The Ministry of Education needs to do something to pay attention to how these schools are started, how they get these letters of eligibility and how they're enforcing the regulations to make sure kids are safe," Hutchinson added.

According to the Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board, its professional conduct committee has ordered an investigation but is waiting for police to complete theirs before it begins.

The three teachers named in the lawsuit who currently hold teaching certificates also signed agreements with the regulatory board last week, promising not to teach or do any kind of related activities until the committee looks into the abuse allegations.

The Ministry of Education has also confirmed that uncertified teaching or instructional staff named in the lawsuit, such as the director at Grace Christian School, will not be allowed to instruct students in any regulated school in Saskatchewan this fall.