A group that represents parents from a Christian academy in central Alberta is seeking a court injunction to try to stop the board from shutting down the school at the end of next month.
Battle River School Division decided a year ago to terminate the agreement it had with the parents-representation society of Cornerstone Christian Academy, about 75 kilometres southeast of Edmonton. Last week the board voted unanimously to officially close the school it.
About 170 students attend Cornerstone, which has a small faculty of about a dozen. The parents’ group used to run the academy, independent of the school division. For the past 10 years, that group has overseen the religious component.
That group has filed an application for a judicial review. No date has been set to hear that application.
In the meantime, the group is seeking a court injunction to stop the school closure. That application is scheduled to be heard on May 17.
James Kitchen, a lawyer with the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms, is working with the parents’ group on the legal action.
“Parents have a right … to educate their children as they see fit, and parents have a right to associate with each other to develop religious institutions, religious educational institutions,” Kitchen said. “Those schools are not only permitted to exist as independent schools in Alberta, they are permitted to exist as alternative programs under Section 21 of the School Act and be part of public school divisions, such as Battle River.”
Bible verse dispute
In January 2017, the school division asked the society to remove a scripture reference from the document that spells out the school’s religious character, Kitchen said, noting Cornerstone eventually acceded to the request.
Several Bible verses were allegedly intended to be included in a handbook for students. The school division believed those might contravene the provincial human right’s code.
Board chair Kendall Severson said issues regarding Bible verses were addressed. He said the board wanted to work on a communications protocol to govern how disputes between the parties are handled. He said a resolution was not reached and legal action was launched.
“We were advised that we could continue any discussions while that was still pending,” Severson said.
Kitchen said the society claims the situation devolved into what was seemingly a request for broad censorship of the Bible.
The injunction, if granted, would allow Cornerstone to survive to litigate its rights at a judicial review, Kitchen said.
“There’s been no allegations of educational deficiency or any complaints regarding Cornerstone,” Kitchen said. “It’s unfortunate, and in fact unlawful, for a school division to accept a school to be an alternative program, a religious alternative program, and then censor and prohibit certain beliefs and religious practices that those religious programs then engage in.”
Cornerstone joined the school division about 10 years ago.
“I was on the board when they asked to join the division and was very excited for them to get the advantages of being part of a big division, because they were a privately run school,” Severson said, noting joining the board meant more resource sharing.
He called the devolution of the relationship “very, very frustrating.
“It’s very sad, and I think it’s the kids who are going to be paying for this, but this was the decision that was made,” Severson said.
The school division does not own the Cornerstone building.
“The society, Cornerstone society, owns their own building, so really, we’re dissolving the relationship,” Severson said. “The school is theirs to do with what they wish.”