Alberta homeschooling association shut down by NDP will fight allegations in court
DERWENT, Alberta, October 27, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — Alberta’s largest Christian homeschooling association is going to court to fight the NDP government’s Tuesday shutdown of its operations, WISDOM Homeschooling Association has announced.
“We have retained legal counsel to immediately oppose the removal of accreditation,” noted a statement on Wisdom’s website. “Trinity and WISDOM remain committed to the provision of education in the province of Alberta and hope to be in a position to resume operations soon.”
Education Minister Dave Eggen revoked the registration and accreditation of Cold Lake-based Trinity Christian School on October 25, effectively shutting down that school as well as the Derwent-based WISDOM Homeschooling Association, which Trinity had contracted to run its homeschooling program.
The government stated in an October 25 letter to Trinity that Wisdom had no “legal relationship” with the ministry, and Trinity’s contracting WISDOM to provide facilitators to monitor homeschooled children contravened provincial legislation.
Eggen stated at Tuesday’s press conference that he was alerted in July of potential problems, and after “unsatisfactory results” from Trinity, ordered an on-site audit, the CBC reported.
The government stated its audit of the last three years revealed that Trinity “failed to appropriately supervise its home education program,” and “failed to demonstrate accountability for funding received from the government of Alberta.”
Almost 3,500 children, or one-third of the province’s homeschool children, were registered with Trinity, which also provided classroom education for 13 students. Each Alberta homeschooled child receives $1,670 of taxpayer funds for educational expenses.
The government audit allegedly found that WISDOM spent $5.2 million, or 90 percent, of the homeschooling grants that Trinity received in 2014/2015.
The audit also claimed to find that money earmarked for educating students was used to fund inappropriate expenses such as babysitting, funeral expenses, and double-dipping of mileage.
The board and administration of Trinity Christian School Association and WISDOM Home Schooling Association is “largely represented by two families,” reported the CBC, noting that the government probe “found family members approved employment contracts for other family members. The total amount paid in salary to these two families is more than $2.76 million in the last three years.”
It also allegedly “found Trinity and WISDOM spent 32 percent of their expenses on office and administration compared to 3.4 to 5.6 percent in public boards.”
Eggen ordered Trinity to pay back the $988,000 in unclaimed parent funding over the past three years that Wisdom allegedly kept by the end of November.
The ministry letter stated it will be collecting all student records from Trinity Christian School and WISDOM’s Derwent headquarters on Friday.
But WISDOM says the courts will decide “in the days ahead” the validity of the NDP government’s claims.
WISDOM initially countered in a Tuesday statement that “AB Education mandates that unclaimed funding stay with the school. Since WISDOM is Trinity’s home education administration, it is logical that WISDOM retained unspent funds and used them on home education programming.”
And it stated Thursday that “Trinity and WISDOM deny the accusations (e.g. misappropriation of funds) coming from Alberta Education” and that Wisdom’s “holding of funds on behalf of Trinity is neither illegal nor deceptive, a fact that is expected to be substantiated by the Courts in the days ahead.”
Meanwhile, opposition parties have criticized the NDP’s handling of the situation.
“I find it hard to understand why Minister Eggen did not at least attempt to make provisions for independent third party management of the school and the association to ensure continuity for students while addressing the government’s concerns on the use of public funding,” noted Jason Kenney, candidate for the Progressive Conservative leadership, in a Facebook statement.
Kenney has heard from many families “blindsided by the government’s announcement,” he stated, and he called on the NDP government to support school choice, and “safeguard the principle of school choice, which the Universal Declaration of Human Rights calls a ‘prior right’ of parents.”
Wildrose Shadow Education Minister Mark Smith also denounced the government’s handling of the situation, noting Eggen’s late Tuesday announcement that he had “permanently shut down Trinity Christian School and WISDOM Homeschooling” threw “thousands of families’ lives into sudden uncertainty.”
“Many families are asking why the minister did not take interim measures that would have allowed them to avoid the confusion created by yesterday’s announcement,” Smith noted in a press release, adding that Wildrose, as official opposition, will “advocate for all students impacted and ensure the model of education parents have chosen for their children remains available to them.”
The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and the Alberta Home Educators Association (AHEA) are counseling parents not to panic but take time to evaluate all options before registering their children with another school board.
WISDOM is also asking parents to wait and see what the courts decide.
“We will continue to advise the parents of further developments,” its statement reads. “We request that the families who have trusted us for so many years await the intervention of the courts prior to taking steps to find new placements for their students.”
WISDOM is not releasing the name of its legal counsel at this time.