LGBTQ2S+ people are sounding the alarm over the Saskatchewan government’s funding of private schools that have ties to homophobic churches.
In a news release, the Saskatchewan government announced in May that it would provide $17.5 million in operating grants to the province’s 21 independent schools and four “historic” schools before the next school year. According to the province’s latest budget documents, that includes $2.6 million for a new “certified independent schools” category, though what that category includes is yet to be determined.
“Our government continues to provide increased funding to our education system because we know this is an investment in the future of our province,” said Saskatchewan Minister of Education, Dustin Duncan, in a statement. “We are committed to providing grants to our historic high schools and our independent schools so that parents and students continue to have more choice in education.”
Among those concerned about local government spending is Dr. Tamara Hinz, a child psychiatrist in Saskatoon. Hinz released an open letter to Duncan last week, asking him to reconsider allocating public funds to schools such as Westgate Heights Academy, which is run by the Westgate Alliance Church.
“As Minister of Education and therefore someone who works for the youth of this province, I am sure you are aware of some of the distressing mental health statistics associated with LGBTQ youth,” reads Dr. Hinz’s letter. “It is completely antithetical to claim, on the one hand, to champion youth and mental health while funding schools that actively increase the risk of suicide for some of the most vulnerable children in our society.”
The Westgate Alliance Discipline and Restoration Policy refers to homosexuality as a “violation of scriptural moral standards” and likens same-sex intimacy to fraud, sexual harassment, and a “violation of scriptural moral standards”. Anyone who violates these standards faces potential disciplinary action.
The policy – which was last amended in 2004 – does not apply to the academy, but exclusively to church members, according to Radio-Canada News.
“The school, its teachers and its students are not members of the church and therefore this policy does not apply to the school,” said Reverend Frank Jeske, senior pastor and principal of Westgate School. , to the public broadcaster in a written statement. “To suggest otherwise is false and misleading.”
In light of the controversy, critics have questioned why public funds aren’t directed to public education instead. Budget constraints recently forced schools in Saskatchewan to cut nearly 100 jobs, including teaching positions.
“There is historically an inherent problem with independent denominational schools in the province of Saskatchewan,” a local tweeted on June 21. “They were allowed to operate with the privilege of public funds, with minimal regulation and oversight.
“It is out of the question that our taxes finance a school that does not respect fundamental human rights,” tweeted another opponent of this decision. “Stop funding this now.”
In a statement to CBC, Saskatchewan’s Department of Education said all eligible schools were “visited and closely monitored.” The provincial government department added that “the decision on where to enroll a student rests with the parent or guardian” and said provincial laws allow “parents of multiple faiths to educate their children in accordance with their beliefs of awareness”.
Teachers are also supervised at least three times per school year and required to submit their lesson plans and lesson plans, according to the Saskatchewan government.