Future of Cornerstone Christian Academy uncertain
Battle River School Division voted to end their relationship with Cornerstone Christian Academy in Kingman on June 29. File photo
The Cornerstone Christian Academy Society is frustrated negotiations have been discontinued by Battle River School Division on a new partnership agreement that would keep the Kingman school under the umbrella of the public school board.
BRSD ended negotiations on the advice of their legal representation after a court action was filed by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms on behalf of the society at the end of December. The court action is seeking to overturn BRSD's decision this past June to terminate the agreement between the society and the division. The decision stemmed from a dispute over the use of a particular bible passage in their Vision and Purpose document. The society agreed to drop the passage, but BRSD then attempted to include a communication protocol in the new agreement and the society balked at that.
In response to the court action, the board voted in favour of a motion to start the process of closing CCA at their last meeting, effective June 30, as a way of ending BRSD programming at the school. They also said they would no longer negotiate with the society unless they dropped the court action.
Society chairperson Deanna Margel says they filed the court action due to a deadline and they would lose that option if it was not filed by the end of 2017. She says their legal representation reassured them the court action does not preclude them from negotiating with BRSD.
"They are entitled to listen to their legal advice, I can see why they do that, but from our side of the equation it is very, very frustrating," she said. "There's no ill intent with (the court action), but the society's job is to keep the school open for another year in the best interest of the kids and this is one avenue that can potentially fulfill this goal. It's not personal, we're not trying to cause them problems. We would rather them sit down and talk with us so we can work something out."
BRSD said negotiations had been productive prior to the court action, and that they continue to operate the K-12 school and ensure a quality education is being given to its 170 students.
Margel has a different view of negotiations, saying they were dealing with a moving target.
"There was frustration … in that we were making progress and then it would be changed or retracted when we came to the next meeting," she said.
One of the bigger sticking points for the society was the role of the principal. Margel says that since the school opened in 1986 the principal attended society meetings and there was open dialogue between the society and the principal when it came to religious programming standards. In June they were informed by the BRSD this could no longer happen and that they were not to communicate with any staff at the school.
"From the society's point of view, we're saying how do we operate as a community if there is that block in communications?" said Margel.
According to the BRSD this has always been the policy, even if it was not being followed previously by CCA. Severson said the society is supposed to communicate through the school council which can include all parents of students at the school and is open to members of the society who are not parents.
"The staff of the school are employees of Battle River School Division," he said in an email. "The principal was asked to attend conferences and meetings in addition to his regular workload, arrange discussions between the CCA Society and the school staff and also asked to attend meetings. These were not appropriate requests for the society to make and they put all the school staff in an uncomfortable position with competing demands and directives."
Margel did say they are willing to work through the council, but that it does make communication more difficult.
With negotiations on a new agreement at a standstill, the society is facing another critical deadline.
As they are classified as alternative programming in the public school system, BRSD holds their accreditation. If they return to being a private school, as they were prior to joining the division in 2009, they would have to re-apply for accreditation.
Margel said this is a process that usually begins in October or November for a school to start programming the following September. They received the paperwork to begin that process this past Friday.
"That gives us about six weeks to get everything in order to apply, so that will be challenging," she said. "And then there is the whole political situation in Alberta with the NDP government and whether they will be granting the accreditation to Christian schools anyways, when you add Bill 24 to the equation. That's a big concern."
If the partnership does end, all staff at the school will be given the option to remain with BRSD and the division says they will work to find them placements at other schools if they so choose.
The society remains committed to the school and finding a way to ensure there are classes at Cornerstone in September.
"The parents that have attended meetings … they're worried but they're optimistic," said Margel. "That comes from our faith and being a Christian school, we tend to be optimistic people. Even though we don't know the future we trust there is still a future for the school in whatever form that takes."
BRSD sent a letter home with students at Cornerstone on Monday discussing a number of the issues. There will be a public meeting at the school on Feb. 27 at 7 p.m.