Yukon education minister sidesteps demands of Hidden Valley school petition

·2 min read
The Yukon legislative assembly. Education Minister Jeanie McLean responded to a petition on Monday urging Tracy McPhee, deputy premier, to disclose information about her knowledge of a 2019 sexual abuse case at Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada - image credit)
The Yukon legislative assembly. Education Minister Jeanie McLean responded to a petition on Monday urging Tracy McPhee, deputy premier, to disclose information about her knowledge of a 2019 sexual abuse case at Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Vincent Bonnay/Radio-Canada - image credit)

The Yukon's education minister responded to petition over sexual abuse at Whitehorse's Hidden Valley Elementary School in the Legislative Assembly on Monday, but offered little new information about the situation.

While Minister Jeanie McLean acknowledged the "seriousness of the matter" and said that "there is nothing that is more important than the well-being, safety, and protection of students," she didn't directly address the two main demands outlined in the document tabled by Lake Laberge MLA Brad Cathers last month.

The parent-organized petition, which was signed by nearly 350 people, urged Tracy McPhee, deputy premier and McLean's predecessor, to publicly disclose when she learned of a sexual abuse case at the school in 2019, and what directions she gave education officials after that.

McPhee did not rise to speak to the petition, nor did McLean disclose the information on McPhee's behalf.

Instead, McLean reiterated that the Education Department did not inform parents about the arrest of a Hidden Valley school educational assistant for the sexual abuse of a student in 2019 because it wanted to protect the victim's privacy, and the integrity of the RCMP's investigation.

"We now recognize that other affected parents were not made aware of the situation and that steps could have been taken during this time to share information in targeted ways to better inform and support families," McLean said.

"That was a mistake. We apologize again for this and acknowledge the stress and emotional toll being experienced by the Hidden Valley school community. We can, and will, do better as we move forward."

She also pointed to the three separate reviews or investigations underway into the government's handling of the situation — one by a government-hired lawyer, another by the Yukon child and youth advocate and the third by the Yukon Ombudsman — as well as internal review by police.

"Findings from these reviews will help us to improve how we protect Yukon students, support school communities, and ensure that the right policies and protocols are in place and effective," she said.

McLean later said during question period that she would be attending a walk-through of Hidden Valley school with its administration on Tuesday to "ensure that [work on] some of the safety issues that have been pointed out are underway," such as the possible removal of doors or installation of one-way glass.

McLean also said she and McPhee would be attending a private meeting with Hidden Valley parents later this month.

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