Quality of education criticized by former students of church-run school near Saskatoon

Two former students of a qualified independent school (QIS) near Saskatoon are criticizing the education they received.

Cody Hamilton and Janeesa Shirley were critical of the curriculum at Prairie Christian Academy and shared their experiences.

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Hamilton said they were taught through the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum and described how it worked.

“God created the world 6,000 years ago with Adam and Eve, and that’s how it is, you know?”

Hamilton added that the curriculum was modified later on to include information on evolution.

“I remember it being, ‘scientists claim the world is millions of years old by means of carbon dating, but oh, carbon dating isn’t accurate past a couple thousand years old, anyways,” said Hamilton.

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Shirley claimed that she only ever learned imperial measurements.

“We never learned the metric system. I have never, ever had the ability to learn the metric system. I am 30 years old and I’ve never learned the metric system,” alleged Shirley.

Hamilton and Shirley attended PCA during different years, with Shirley attending from 1995 to 2004, during a time when the school wasn’t publicly funded.

Hamilton attended from 2000 to 2014.

Both describe the same learning environment, with students of all ages sitting in cubicles facing away from each other.

“But there’s no one like at the front of the chalkboard walking everyone through fractions or something. You’re just. You’re handed the booklet,” Shirley said.

“When you hand in a booklet, you know, you do the test on it the next day. So really, for an entire grade, you have 12 booklets. That’s just 12 times you need to hold on to that memory overnight and you do your tests first thing in the morning and that’s it,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton and Shirley aren’t the only people waving the red flag about the ACE curriculum.

Read more: Saskatoon Christian school textbook raises curriculum concerns at legislature

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Passages from a biology textbook used at Legacy Christian Academy (LCA), formerly Christian Centre Academy, made the rounds at the Saskatchewan legislature on Thursday, which suggested that people and dinosaurs coexisted.

“Biblical and scientific evidence tend to support the idea that men and dinosaurs existed at the same time,” read the textbook.

“The recurring ‘dragon’ theme in folklore helps support the idea of the dinosaur’s coexistence with man.”

Both PCA and LCA are part of the same organization known as the Saskatchewan Association of Independent Church Schools (SAICS), and the biology textbook was from the ACE curriculum.

One of the people who brought forward the textbook, Caitlin Erickson, claimed there was also racist and sexist content within the curriculum as well, and claimed these textbooks were still used today.

“There’s no broad discussions happening, there’s no development of critical thinking. So it wasn’t until I was in university that I had to relearn a few things,” Erickson said.

“In the ACE curriculum there’s highly inappropriate comics inside all these booklets. And a lot of them are very sexist. There’s things on women submitting to men.”

“This type of curriculum enforces indoctrination, it doesn’t further learning,” Erickson claimed.

Global News reached out to ACE Canada and its American parent company multiple times in multiple ways but did not get a response.

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Former students of LCA, including Erickson are suing the administrators of LCA and the operating church – now called Mile Two Church – for abuse.

Corporate documents show SAICS has three directors. Two of the directors are named defendants in the $25 million lawsuit.

The lawsuit has not been tested in court.

Both Lou Brunelle and Duff Friesen used to work at Erickson’s old school.

The third director, Amber Boutin, works for PCA.

Global News reached out to both Duff Friesen and Lou Brunelle multiple times for a comment.

Neither responded.

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Multiple attempts were made to reach out to Amber Boutin for a comment as well with no response, but an email was sent from “Directors of Faith Alive Ministries”, which operates PCA, stating “Our counsel has instructed us to remind you we are a Christian, faith-based school entitled by law and under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms to teach our students love of God out of a theological, anthropological, and moral perspective derived exclusively from what we sincerely hold as Biblical truth. That is what we do. That is what we have always done.”

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Global News asked Hamilton how his education prepared him for post-secondary education.

“It didn’t because it’s self-taught. And I never developed skills of even how to take notes. You know, that wasn’t a thing,” Hamilton said.

He added that he constantly struggled through his time at university, noting that the delivery system was completely different.

Minister of Education Dustin Duncan said in a media briefing on August 30 that ministry officials look at independent schools and look over their educational plan.

“The ministry officials that do you know, they will meet at the beginning of the school year to look at what the operational plan, the yearly plan looks like. They’ll look at what the educational plan looks like for the students. They’ll ensure that it does align with the Saskatchewan curriculum and also, so they’ll do that visit, that’s a planned visit, at the beginning of the school year.”

Thursday Duncan said it’s up to parents to decide where their kids get educated.

“We give them a choice, and if they don’t want that for their children they don’t have to be there. Nobody is forced to attend these schools.”

But Saskatchewan residents do pay for these schools.

PCA is listed as a QIS, and according to the province’s public accounts, received $2,688,231 between 2012 and 2020.

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QISs receive funding of 50 per cent of the provincial per-student average.

Global News reached out with a detailed list of questions.

In a statement the education ministry said the Education Act “… allows parents/guardians to educate their children in accordance with their conscientious beliefs, which may include faith-based education…”

Regarding the biology textbook shown by Erickson, Duncan said they may have to look at more frequent inspections and reviews of QIS curriculum, but added that he didn’t know enough about ACE curriculum.

“It has not been raised with me by the ministry in terms of looking at the outcomes of students that the students are not achieving the outcomes set out by the curriculum in Saskatchewan,” Duncan said.

The annual inspection reports for QISs from the Ministry of Education are not publicly available, so Global News submitted a Freedom of Information request, and received several inspection reports.

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The inspection report for PCA in 2011 outlined that SAICS curricula was being realigned with the Ministry of Education’s “foundational Objectives to Student Outcomes and Renewal”.

The report also gives a definition of what the inspection includes.

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“Checking compliance with the Act, Regulations and Policy, observing any aspect of the educational activities and operations in a non-directive/unobtrusive way, appreciation and recognition of the distinct philosophical orientation of the school. Inspection does not include responsibility for the recruitment and dismissal of independent school teachers or the selections of programs and courses in an independent school,” read the report.

According to the report, PCA met the standards.

“Prairie Christian Academy provides instruction in the required areas of study and that instruction is appropriate for the age and ability of its pupils, comparable in quality to that of schools and consistent with generally accepted teaching principles,” read the report.

In 2014, the reports changed. A section stating that supervision was required was added. Supervision included inspection, evaluating the performance of independent school teachers, a recognition of the separate authority of church and state, and an appreciation of the distinct philosophical orientation of each independent school.

Supervision did not include responsibility for the recruitment or dismissal of school teachers or the selection of programs and courses in independent schools.

Global News reached out to Minister of Education Dustin Duncan for an interview and received the following statement from the Ministry of Education.

In response to questions about the funding and curriculum, the ministry wrote, “All (QIS) must also follow applicable criteria. All QIS are required to comply with a strict set of criteria to receive funding of 50 per cent of the provincial per-student average.”

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“These criteria include, but are not limited to, only employing teachers with a Professional “A” teaching certificate regulated by Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board (SPTRB), providing approved courses of study in accordance with provincial curriculum policy, agreeing to be supervised by ministry officials, and complying with all ministry policies and directives. The ministry does confirm teachers’ and principals’ status with the SPTRB,” read the statement.

Erickson, Hamilton and Shirley said the government should monitor QISs much more closely and ensure the education is equivalent to that in fully publicly funded schools.

– With files from Global News’ Nathaniel Dove and Connor O’Donovan.

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