GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alberta, November 4, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) — An Alberta judge has granted a Christian homeschooling operation an injunction that temporarily voids NDP Minister of Education Dave Eggen’s October 25 order to shut it down.
Court of Queen’s Bench Justice E.J. Simpson’s temporary injunction granted Friday allows Trinity Christian School and Wisdom Homeschooling Association to resume operations.
However, Simpson did not grant Trinity’s request for an injunction to restore funding, but deferred that decision for a full hearing on January 5, 2017, Trinity’s lawyer Jay Cameron told LifeSiteNews Friday night.
Trinity is a private school board in Cold Lake that has 3,500 children registered with its homeschooling program, the running of which it contracts out to Derwent-based Wisdom.
Eggen shut down Trinity “permanently” on October 25 by revoking its accreditation, citing a government audit that alleged financial irregularities and contravention of provincial laws.
The ministry advised parents of the 3,500 children registered with Trinity only that day that they had to sign on with another school board.
But the judge’s ruling now stays Eggen’s directive, reestablishing the status quo before October 25 which means that “again Trinity School Association is an accredited institution and is back up and running,” Cameron told LifeSiteNews.
“I’m encouraged,” he said.“I think it’s a victory for the rule of law and procedural fairness, as well as constitutional rights.”
“The sudden closure without notice to the school or to the parents and the students, was dramatically unfair, unreasonable, and a real mistake,” Cameron said.
The courtroom in the northern community was “packed” with concerned parents, he added. “It was standing room only.”
Indeed, parents had expressed shock at the sudden closure, and Trinity and Wisdom claimed they had no prior warning of the shutdown.
Cameron argued that the closing was “calculated attack in an arbitrary, hostile and capricious fashion, and for an unlawful purpose,” and violated the rights of students and parents, and caused “enormous stress, anxiety, hardship and uncertainty.”
According to the education ministry, its audit found WISDOM spent $5.2 million, or 90 percent, of the homeschooling grants Trinity received in 2014/2015; some of the money earmarked for teaching students was used to pay for babysitting, alcohol, and funeral expenses; and that the Trinity and WISDOM boards and administration were mainly represented by two families who had received more than $2.76 million between them in salaries in the last three years.
Eggen also alleged that Trinity and Wisdom had $998,000 in unused student funds and directed that it be paid back by the end of November.
He responded to the ruling today with a statement stressing its temporary nature. “It is important to note that today’s ruling was not a final determination on the merits of the case,” he said. “We stand behind the actions that we have taken to date based on the evidence made public in the audit.”
Each Alberta homeschooled child is allotted $1,670 in public funds for educational expenses. The money goes to the administering school board, which is entitled to 50 percent to cover its own logistical expenses.
Eggen had also announced October 25 that he had referred the matter to the RCMP and the Canada Revenue Agency.
Trinity and Wisdom deny the allegations.
Cameron has applied for a judicial review of Eggen’s decision, but that may not happen for up to six months or a year, he said.
Critics have accused the NDP government of acting out of bias towards homeschooling given the party’s longstanding opposition to education options outside the public system. In 2013, prior to her rise to Alberta Premier, NDP leader Rachel Notley told the legislature that the NDP are “steadfastly opposed to private schooling.”
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