Cornerstone Christian Academy v Battle River School Division

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Cornerstone Christian Academy v Battle River School Division

 

Founded in 1986, Cornerstone Christian Academy (CCA) is a school in Kingman, Alberta, one-hour south-east of Edmonton.  It provides K-12 education for approximately 180 students.

Parents in Camrose, Tofield and other towns have chosen to send their children to CCA because they agree with the school’s commitment to integrate knowledge of the Bible and its relevance into the approved Alberta curriculum.

In 2009, CCA entered into an agreement with the public school board, the Battle River School Division (BRSD), pursuant to provincial legislation which encourages school boards to incorporate “alternative programs”.  Alberta law provides parents with choices to have their children attend various alternative programs, which focus on sports, art, music, foreign languages, different religions, etc.

In 2017, BRSD issued a demand that CCA should not read or study “any scripture that could be considered offensive to particular individuals,” 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 by the Justice Centre on June 8, on behalf of CCA, stating: “As for the board’s [BRSD’s] position it remains the same.” Consequently, CCA went public, and following a public meeting, BRSD agreed to meet with CCA.

Following two 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 statement was made available to parents and staff at CCA.

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.”

On June 29, 2017, BRSD notified CCA that it was terminating the Agreement between BRSD and the Cornerstone Christian Society of Camrose.  This means that, unless the decision is reversed, BRSD will no longer operate Cornerstone Christian Academy as of June 30, 2018.

The written legal agreement between CCA and BRSD serves to fulfil the Alberta legislature’s stated 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 its agreement with CCA 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.

On December 22, 2017, the Justice Centre filed a court application against BRSD on behalf of Cornerstone Christian Society of Camrose and three parents of children who attend Cornerstone Christian Academy. The court application seeks judicial review of the decision of the Battle River School Division to unilaterally terminate the Master Agreement between the Society and BRSD. The court application also seeks a declaration that the decision made by BRSD on June 29, 2017 to terminate the Master Agreement is unreasonable, is a breach of the Master Agreement, was done in bad faith, is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and is otherwise invalid. The application also seeks an injunction preventing the closure of Cornerstone until a court determines the lawfulness of the decision to close the school.

This application was heard in the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench in Wetaskawin on May 17, 2018. The court dismissed the application for an injunction.

The CCA applied for and received private school status in August 2018, and the application for judicial review of the BRSD decision was discontinued.

 


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