CAMROSE, AB: The Battle River School Division (BRSD) in Camrose has decided to terminate its agreement with the Cornerstone Christian Academy Society (CCA), after BRSD tried unsuccessfully to impose a confidentiality agreement on the Society. This June 29 decision came just days after BRSD and CCA developed a joint statement in which BRSD agreed to not censor the use of the Bible at CCA.
On May 27, 2017, the BRSD confirmed its directive to CCA that “any scripture that could be considered offensive to particular individuals should not be read or studied in school,” and suggested that CCA was not in compliance with the School Act and human rights legislation.
The BRSD dismissed an eight-page legal letter sent on behalf of CCA within hours of receiving it, stating: “As for the board’s [BRSD’s] position it remains the same.” CCA then went public with its concerns on June 13.
Following two generally positive face-to-face meetings between BRSD and CCA representatives, BRSD agreed to issue a joint statement with CCA indicating that “[n]either the Board nor BRSD employees will censor the reading or teaching of the Bible at Cornerstone School.” The statement also noted that “[a] productive dialogue occurred and both parties are eager to continue to work together.” The June 23 statement was made available to parents and staff at CCA, but not to the general public.
However, at the end of the meeting on Friday, June 23, BRSD presented CCA with a proposed “Addendum” to the BRSD-CCA Agreement, to prohibit public disclosure of information in the future.
CCA responded on June 27, stating, in part, that “the Proposed Addendum seems to be a gag order, which we believe is inappropriate in the context of interactions between a representative parent Society and a public school Board. The Society represents a community of people who have a vested interest in issues affecting CCA, and consequently we can not agree to the requirements and broad restrictions in the Proposed Addendum.”
BRSD did not respond to CCA until June 29, 2017, when BRSD notified CCA that it was terminating the Agreement between BRSD and the CCA Society. This means that, unless the decision is reversed, BRSD will no longer operate Cornerstone Christian Academy as of June 30, 2018.
Despite the notice provided by BRSD, CCA continues in its desire to work with BRSD to operate Cornerstone Christian Academy.
“We are deeply saddened by the BRSD’s decision to terminate our agreement,” stated Deanna Margel, Chair of the CCA Society, “which makes no sense if they truly desire to continue working together. It seems unwise, and completely unnecessary, to throw away years of productive co-operation in mere weeks because we’ve simply hit an unusual bump in the road. Things just don’t add up.”
“Nonetheless, as parents of students at CCA, it is still our goal to achieve a positive working relationship with the division and keep Cornerstone Christian Academy open past June 2018,” continued Margel.
“BRSD’s recent directives concerning Cornerstone Christian Academy are troubling. First it demanded censorship of offensive Bible verses, then it attempted to impose confidentiality on the organization representing CCA families,” stated lawyer John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, which represents CCA.
“Cornerstone Christian Academy has always complied with its Agreement with BRSD, with the School Act and with human rights laws,” continued Carpay.
Chronology and background information
The written legal agreement between the school and school board, in force since 2009, serves to fulfil the Alberta government’s objective to support diversity and parent choice through alternative programs. Under Alberta law, these alternative programs include schools dedicated to various religious teachings (including Christianity, Judaism, Sikhism and Islam), sports, differing educational philosophies, etc.
In this 2009 agreement, BRSD promises: “The Board will not attempt to change the essential nature of the CCA program, as set out in the agreed upon School Vision and Purpose as outlined in Schedule A.” The School Vision and Purpose document clearly commits Cornerstone to be a Christian School, based on teaching from the Bible.
Parents in Camrose, Tofield and other towns have chosen Cornerstone Christian Academy in Kingman, Alberta, because they agree with the school’s commitment to integrate knowledge of the Bible and its relevance into the approved Alberta curriculum.
On May 27, BRSD Chair Laurie Skori confirmed a demand to the CCA Society that “any scripture that could be considered offensive to particular individuals should not be read or studied in school” and suggested that CCA was not in compliance with the School Act and human rights legislation.
On June 8, the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms (JCCF.ca) wrote to BRSD explaining that the BRSD demand was illegal as violating the School Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and principles of administrative law. Later on June 8, merely hours after receiving the letter from the Justice Centre, BRSD Chair Laurie Skori responded by indicating that the letter changed nothing in respect of her May 27 demand.
On June 19, representatives from BRSD and the CCA entered into discussions to resolve problems.
On June 23, the CCA Society and BRSD jointly issued a positive and optimistic statement, indicating that BRSD would not “censor the reading or teaching of the Bible” at CCA. The parties committed to continuing with discussions that had been commenced on June 19.
On June 24, with the two sides having reached agreement on substantive issues, BRSD asked the CCA Society to sign an “Addendum” that would prevent the CCA Society from communicating publicly about school board matters. The CCA Society responded by reiterating its commitment to working with BRSD on issuing joint media statements, however, the CCA Society would not agree to a gag order.
On June 29, BRSD informed the CCA Society that it could no longer continue as an alternative program within the public school board in the 2018-19 school year.