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BRSD votes to close Cornerstone Christian Academy

By Josh Aldrich, Camrose Canadian

Battle River School District voted unanimously on April 26 to close public school programming at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Kingman. File photo

Battle River School District voted unanimously on April 26 to close public school programming at Cornerstone Christian Academy in Kingman. File photo

Cornerstone Christian Academy will no longer be a part of the Battle River School Division once the school year ends. 

 

BRSD trustees voted unanimously to close the school at their board meeting on April 26, officially ending public school programming at the Kingman school. 

School board chairperson Kendall Severson said the decision was not made lightly. 

"It's sad, you can't enjoy effecting lives (like this), you have to make decisions to the best of our knowledge," said Severson. "Everyone has lost sleep, it has been on our minds steady for months." 

The decision puts the future of the school in doubt, though Cornerstone Christian Academy Society chairperson says they have applied for accreditation as a private school, which is what the academy was up until 2008. She says she is hoping to have an answer from the province by mid-May, though nothing is guaranteed, especially in the current climate and a court challenge currently in place by a group of religious-based private schools in regards to Bill-24 and gay-straight alliances. 

"We believe it should be a simple yes, but we can't guarantee it, we really don't know at all," she said. 

There are 171 students who are attending the school this year from across the region involving about 100 families, making this a unique situation as opposed to a private school starting from scratch. 

This vote ends a 10-month process which began after concerns over the school division censoring the Christian school's use of some Bible passages. The two sides reportedly solved that issue but as the two sides sought to form a new working agreement, the Camrose Christian Academy Society balked at the inclusion of a communications policy that would bar them from going public with negotiations in the future. Last June, the school board voted to end the agreement between the two organizations which started a year-long process to sever the CCA from BRSD, but left the door open for negotiations to continue. Negotiations resumed this fall with some hope that they would be able to come to a new agreement, however, when the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms filed a court action on behalf of the CCA in attempt to overturn the original vote BRSD trustees were directed by their legal council to end negotiations. 

"I feel things were going very well in our meeting on Dec. 11, and I was echoed by a trustee at the table as well, that they left that meeting feeling very positive that we were going to be moving forward," said Severson. "It was such a shock to me on Dec. 26 when we received the court documents." 

At the school board meeting last week, following a request by Margel for an extension to programming, she and CCA parent Mark Loewen were asked if they would consider dropping the court action, both of whom said they would not. Following further deliberation, the board voted unanimously to close the school. 

The court action remains in place, though Margel is unsure of the next step in the process, especially now that the board has officially voted to close CCA as a public school. 

Several board members did comment during the meeting that they had thought negotiations were moving forward in a positive manner and that major issues like talks of censorship had been laid to rest. The court action, however, made it so they were unable to continue to negotiate.  

Margel, however, says she views the court action as an excuse not to negotiate further and that they still had concerns over censorship. 

"Prior to that it was the communication protocol, prior to that it was the censorship of the Bible issue, we call it a moving target, every time one thing is solved, something new comes up," said Margel. "They say the (censorship) issue has been resolved, yet at the public meeting in both December and the one in January, they made comments like 'No we won't censor the Bible, but if it contradicts human rights legislation then you can't use it.' I'm not convince the initial concern is in fact resolved." 

Teachers and staff at the school that are on contract will be given the option to remain with the school board or to remain at CCA, which is one of the reasons the academy is hoping to have a response soon so they know if they can offer packages to current staff to stay. 

There is also the issue of resources currently at the school that belong to BRSD, everything from library books to technology that will be pulled out of CCA and redistributed throughout the division. The school board has not yet determined how they will go about this but did say there will be no changes made until the summer. 

Severson was on the board when discussions when BRSD was first approached by CCAS about joining the public school division. He said their were a number of reasons at the time why the society wanted to join the division including staff retention, professional development and access to improved programming and resources for the schools including inclusive education programming. 

Those purchases are made division wide and those resources that will be put in place in other buildings. 

Margel has a daughter in Grade 8 at the school and she says the students are in a tough spot not knowing if they will be returning in the fall or if they will be forced to transfer to new schools. 

"It is absolutely stressful, there is no doubt about that," she said. "At least for my daughter, she's hanging in there, we're trusting god, we're trusting that there is a plan, we are confident that there will be Christian education at Cornerstone next year … it might look very different, but there will be something." 

 

jaldrich@postmedia.com 

 



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