According to a report obtained by Breaking:, the Saskatchewan government has failed to properly track and investigate complaints of abuse and other misconduct in the province’s independent schools.
“The way I feel is shocked and quite upset. As a taxpayer I would just be livid. And as a parent I would be concerned about my kids in these schools,” said Stefanie Hutchinson, a former student of Saskatoon’s Legacy Christian Academy.
Hutchinson is one of dozens of former Legacy students who say they were abused by officials. They filed their complaints with the police and filed a proposed $25 million class action lawsuit.
They also demanded action from the Saskatchewan government, which oversees these independent schools. But according to a recent report by Sharon Pratchler, Saskatchewan’s ombudsman, those complaints were not properly tracked or investigated.
Pratchler said the Department of Education admitted it, “had no reporting and investigative guidelines for handling complaints related to registered independent schools.”
In an interview, Pratchler said that any complaint “related to individuals and personal dignity or safety, which is always high on the spectrum of things that need attention.”
Hutchinson said she was disgusted that the government continued to fund these schools while turning a blind eye to abuse.
“The fact that the government can throw money at these institutions while overlooking important issues like child safety complaints is truly astounding,” Hutchinson said.
NDP opposition education critic Matt Love concurred.
“It’s evidence that they didn’t make it to these students,” Love said.
“They failed these students and their families by knowingly turning a blind eye to these independent schools. I asked the minister in question, ‘What are these independent schools independent of?’ The fact is that these independent schools have been independent from public accountability and government oversight from day one.”
Education Secretary Dustin Duncan said Thursday he appreciates the work Pratchler has done.
“The changes we made, both last fall and this spring, reflect that we would agree that we needed better processes,” said Duncan.
The Minister of Education referred to changes that had been made to two pieces of legislation, the Registered Independent Schools Regulation and the Education Financing Regulation.
The changes mean that independent schools must have an attendance policy, an out-of-school policy, a parental complaint and grievance policy, and an administrative policy handbook.
Beginning in the 2024-2025 school year, independent schools must be “registered as a separate non-profit organization from each parent organization,” such as a church.
To encourage people to speak up if there is a problem with the principal, the principal of an independent school should not be a member of the school’s board of directors.
The schools must also ensure that teachers are licensed and that staff listings on the school’s website match the role for which the staff member is licensed. Schools are also required to have at least one teacher for every 40 students.
Duncan has previously said that any school that fails to comply with the new rules will be placed on probation until it complies, with its certificate revoked for “serious offences”.
In an email, a Department of Education official said it “welcomes the opportunity to partner with the Saskatchewan Ombudsman in implementing and improving processes that promote the well-being of all Saskatchewan students and their right to safe schools and ensure quality education.”
Pratchler outlined requirements for a good complaints system, such as independence and communication. She said she expects her recommendations to be followed.
Former Legacy student Caitlin Erickson isn’t so confident.
“I’m not so sure,” she said. “It doesn’t take a group of battered students to expose all the holes in the Department of Education and how underregulated all independent schools are.”