Were Anti-Vaxxers the End of SCAP? An Investigation
Breach of agreement by Christian Parents' Association caused over $300K in damages to public school board
Public records obtained in response to a freedom of information request submitted to the Rainy River District School Board (RRDSB) have revealed new details in the breakdown of the relationship between the board and the Christian Parents’ Association (CPA), which led to the end of the Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program (SCAP) on June 30, 2022.
The newly-released records suggest that the CPA’s breach of the agreement was driven by their members’ attempts to side-step provincially mandated public health requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic. The records also indicate that the CPA's actions caused over $300,000 in damages to the RRDSB. None of this was reported by local media.
SCAP came into existence in 1978 through a partnership between the RRDSB and the local Mennonite community, and later with the CPA. Over the years, SCAP grew to offer grades K-12, initially at a location in Stratton, and more recently moving to a new facility in Emo. The partnership agreement – which was released by the RRDSB – provided that the CPA was responsible for providing the school building, while the school board had responsibility for providing staffing, administration, and textbooks, desks, chairs, IT equipment, and office resources, among other things. Transportation funding was also provided by the RRDSB.
SCAP was never recognized as a stand-alone school by the Ministry of Education, but as an annex to two public schools: Sturgeon Creek School (an elementary school, located in Chapple) and Rainy River High School. The partnership agreement prohibited the CPA from creating an adjacent or competing program to the one funded and provided by the RRDSB, stating that a principle of the agreement was to ensure “the elements of the Program will complement and augment, not replace or conflict, with existing roles and services in the [RRDSB]”. Public schools are funded based on an enrolment formula, so the purpose of this provision was to ensure that the RRDSB received enough Ministry support to make SCAP viable by preventing the CPA's other educational pursuits from undermining board revenues.
On February 9, 2022, the Fort Frances Times reported that the RRDSB had voted at a special meeting held on January 27, 2022 not to renew its partnership agreement with the CPA. The stated reason referred to in the news article was an “agreement violation”. The article described the CPA’s breach of the agreement as being related to the CPA’s decision to offer a private, homeschooling high school program within the SCAP building. But little information was provided in the article about the specifics of this alleged breach of the agreement.
The documents now released by the RRDSB suggest that the CPA misled the school board for most of 2021 about their efforts to institute this parallel homeschooling program, which the school board only discovered days before the start of the 2021/22 school year. Meeting minutes, correspondence between the parties, and notes produced by the RRDSB reflect the CPA’s ongoing anxieties and resistance toward provincial COVID-19 rules. At points, it appears that the effort by the CPA to create a homeschooling program within the SCAP building was intended to create a physical space where COVID-19 rules might not be enforceable by the RRDSB.
The documents released by the RRDSB confirm the timeline of events which led to the breakdown in the relationship:
June 2018: The 2018-2021 Agreement
In June 2018, the RRDSB entered into a three-year agreement for the 2018/19, 2019/20, and 2020/21 school years.
March 2021: Negotiations Begin
In early 2021, talks commenced between the CPA and representatives of the school board to negotiate a new three-year agreement.
On March 8, 2021, a meeting was held at the board office between representatives of both organizations. Brief, hand-written notes, prepared by Director of Education Heather Campbell, which appear to be from the meeting, highlight the CPA’s “questions re: COVID”.
April 2021: CPA Requests One-Year Agreement
On April 14, 2021, CPA Chair Wayne Kooistra emailed Ms. Campbell to request a one-year extension of the existing agreement, rather than a 3-year term. In his email, he expressed that there was difficulty getting the CPA constituency together to review the proposed changes to the agreement due to COVID-19 restrictions.
(My avid followers will recall that the CPA allowed an Easter Sunday event to take place at their school building on April 4, 2021, which turned into a COVID super-spreader.)
Mr. Kooistra asked Ms. Campbell if the school board would be open to a one-year agreement instead, based on the current contract, “to get through Covid and then readdress the [3-year] agreement next year”. His email asked Ms. Campbell, “Are you sure that all Covid protocols will be kept in place throughout the entire school year as well as next year?”
In her reply the same day, Ms. Campbell confirmed that it was her understanding that COVID protocols would be in place at the start of the following school year, as students would not yet be vaccinated.
On April 20, 2021, Ms. Campbell prepared a memorandum for the school board's Finance Committee, which stated that due to COVID-19 measures, Mr. Kooistra had advised her that the CPA membership were unable to meet to discuss proposed changes to the new three-year agreement because they rely on in-person meetings. As such, she recommended that the RRDSB enter into a one-year extension of the existing agreement, and resume discussions in January 2022, in the hopes that pandemic restrictions may have subsided by that time.
April 28 to May 11, 2021: RRDSB Approves One-Year Agreement
On April 28, 2021, Mr. Kooistra confirmed to Ms. Campbell, by email, that the CPA board was prepared to enter into a one-year agreement.
On May 4, 2021, the RRDSB's meeting minutes show that it accepted the recommendation for the one-year extension.
On May 11, 2021, Ms. Campbell notified Mr. Kooistra that the RRDSB had approved the agreement and she would be forwarding it to him for signature.
May-June 2021: CPA Wants Partitioned Space in the SCAP Building
In May and June 2021, email correspondence shows that the RRDSB received a request from Mr. Kooistra, on behalf of the CPA, to have a classroom set aside for its own use in the SCAP building.
The school board proposed the science room, as it is seldom used. Curiously, on May 19, 2021, Mr. Kooistra wrote to Ms. Campbell that “we can look at how to separate the two entities possible with a wall in the hallway etc.” At no time does he specify clearly, in any of the documents, why this would be necessary or desirable.
On June 4, 2021, Ms. Campbell emailed Mr. Kooistra about the suggestion to partition the building. Her email to him suggests that the purpose of the proposed partition was to create a portion of the building where masking rules would not apply:
For the room, there is some concern if there was a partition created due to the access for the water fountain, the caretaker room, as well as egress. A thought is to take the classroom for CPA use and just have CPA members wear a mask when entering the building/in the hallways. Once the door is closed and one is in the CPA room, masks can be taken off, as that would be your room.
June 29 to August 17, 2021: CPA Delays Signing the Agreement
By June 29, 2021 – the very end of the 2020/21 school year – Ms. Campbell’s emails to Mr. Kooistra confirm that the CPA has not yet signed the one-year extension agreement.
This delay continues. By July 8 and 9, 2021, it remains clear from email correspondence that Mr. Kooistra has still not signed the agreement, despite indicating to Ms. Campbell that the CPA board was meeting on June 29, 2021 for this very purpose.
Over a month later, on August 16, 2021, Ms. Campbell returned from vacation to discover that the signed agreement had still not been returned by the CPA. She wrote to Mr. Kooistra to once again inquire about the agreement.
Mr. Kooistra responds the next day, stating that “I have had some questions arise from parents and I wonder if we can sit down to talk about them?” The emails which follow suggest that a meeting took place that day at the school board office, though there are no records in the production set about the meeting.
August 2021: CPA’s “Alternative High School” is Exposed
On August 23, 2021, Ms. Campbell was forwarded an email from Jim Chorney, the high school principal affiliated with SCAP. The email thread includes an email from Peter Fuhrer, the Past Chair of the CPA. His email included statements which appears to be the first information the RRDSB received about the CPA's plans for an alternate high school, separate from SCAP:
… I have had a number of parents ask to enroll their student into the new CPA alternative high school program while still having their child enroll in Mr. Pawluk’s math class. Because of what our schedule will look like in the new CPA high school program, a scenario like I mentioned would only work if those students would be in Mr. Pawluk’s class during the first half of the day.
(I pause here to note that Peter Fuhrer is the brother of John Fuhrer, the RRDSB's Emo trustee, who voted to approve the one-year extension agreement on May 4, 2021. One could speculate that Trustee Fuhrer knew at some point in this timeline of the CPA's plans to breach the RRDSB's terms. Board minutes show he abstained from the vote to terminate the RRDSB's relationship with the CPA on January 27, 2022, but did not declare a conflict of interest.)
Later on August 23, 2021, Ms. Campbell wrote to Mr. Kooistra about this new information. Her email states that this is the first she was made aware of the CPA’s plans to create this “alternative program”, and that the resulting loss in enrollment in the RRDSB secondary program at SCAP is prejudicial to its funding and operations. Her email suggests that this message was sent following a phone call to Mr. Kooistra. It states:
I just want to clarify our position with respect to the alternative program that I just found out about today.
At this point, with little notice, we are faced with a significant deficit as our staffing is in place for teachers, based on the enrolment figures that include SCAP students. With a loss of students at SCAP secondary, we will have to look at potentially dissolving the secondary program midway through the year, reducing support staffing within the building and relocating the onsite administrator.
As I noted on the call, we have overstaffed SCAP secondary for many years, based on low enrolment at the program. We have essentially taken staffing from the larger school to RRHS/SCAP in order to have some stand-alone classes at SCAP.
I know that there has been an interest in more online courses and certainly, if students remain under the RRDSB and take these online courses, paid for by the Board, through the government’s as well as other Ontario curriculum based elearning consortia, we can then attract the enrolment funding and offer supports for the students who are attending online. This would then keep the numbers up to justify the number of support staff and the onsite administrator.
The end of Ms. Campbell's email is noteworthy. It suggests that COVID-19 public health requirements have been a motivation for the CPA’s efforts to create a stand-alone and separate high school program:
However, if this is a way for families to avoid the COVID-19 health and safety measures, as directed by the Ontario government, then this suggestion will not work and we will be faced with some serious financial difficulty.
On August 24, 2021, a meeting took place between RRDSB Chair Raymond Roy, RRDSB Superintendent of Business Meghan Cox, Ms. Campbell, Mr. Kooistra, CPA Vice-Chair Jason McQuaker, and Peter Fuhrer. The detailed minutes from the meeting released by the school board suggest that the following discussion took place:
Mr. Kooistra expressed that the CPA always had an intention of running a high school homeschooling program out of the SCAP building. He indicated that the CPA was uncertain how many students that this would draw from the existing RRDSB program (about half of which were enrolled with the RRDSB in 2020/21, with others coming from other existing homeschooling arrangements).
Ms. Campbell stated that running a high school homeschooling program is a breach of the agreement with the RRDSB, referring to the specific, written principles from the agreement. The minutes indicate that the CPA representatives disputed this, and said that if necessary, they would erect a wall in the building to separate the two programs.
The RRDSB representatives pointed out that none of the communications from the CPA that spring about wanting an additional room for CPA activities had referred to running a competing homeschooling program in the space provided.
The RRDSB also pointed out that they had reached out to the CPA on multiple occasions since May 11, 2021 to have the agreement signed, and not once were these concerns raised, despite numerous representations that the terms were agreeable and the contract would be signed imminently.
The CPA tried to argue that there was a 30-day renege clause in the agreement anyway, which would have allowed the CPA to exit the agreement even if they had signed, but the RRDSB pointed out that no such clause exists in any agreement between the organizations (they are correct - the agreement does not include any such clause).
Perhaps most alarming are these three paragraphs from the minutes:
Upon further discussion, [Mr. McQuaker] offered that the agreement has been brought forward to meetings but that parents had concerns. Specifically, the concerns were related to the changes [in] direction and mandates coming from the government and at schools. These concerns are largely tied to COVID protocols and specifically direction around vaccinations. It was offered that enrolment would drop significantly if vaccines became mandated in schools (and that the enrolment drop would not be exclusive to secondary – entire families would pull out). …
There was additional discussion regarding the attempts that the SCAP School Council had made to update the School Code of Conduct. It was reiterated that the School Council is unable to create the School Code of Conduct and the School Code of Conduct is the responsibility of the school administrator.
The members of the CPA indicated that they would like blended programming where students are able to attend specific RRDSB classes in person and then complete other coursework through the CPA homeschool program.
At the conclusion of the meeting, it appears that Ms. Campbell asked Mr. Kooistra to poll parents for a sense of what would impact enrolment going forward, with specific reference to mandatory vaccinations.
September-December 2021: Legal Notice from the RRDSB
On September 14, 2021, the RRDSB’s lawyer, Rachael Paquette, sent a letter to the CPA documenting the CPA’s actions to “unilaterally and improperly” terminate the one-year extension agreement made between the RRDSB and the CPA for the 2021/22 year. Her letter makes five main points:
First, Ms. Paquette’s letter outlines at length the numerous communications from Mr. Kooistra confirming the CPA’s support for the one-year renewal, and the RRDSB’s efforts to prepare for the upcoming school year in reliance on his representations, including his specific commitment to drop off the signed agreement at the board office on July 8, 2021.
Second, Ms. Paquette outlines the significant financial losses incurred by the RRDSB as a result of the CPA’s actions, documenting the financial impact of the enrollment loss created by the CPA’s “alternate” high school:
…the Rainy River District School Board acted on that agreement at a significant expense. At this point there are only six (6) students remaining in the secondary program which will amount to a loss of over $70,000 in grants. In addition, 2.5 FTE of secondary staffing have already been expended, a cost of $323,120 in salary and benefits that cannot be recovered as the contract timelines have passed. These totals do not also capture the other costs associated in supporting the secondary program.
(A separate document in the production set supports this damages calculation.)
Third, Ms. Paquette indicates that the RRDSB would be pursuing damages of $323,120 against the CPA unless it immediately adhered to its terms and returned the signed agreement.
Fourth, the letter also refers to ongoing concerns with the CPA’s respect for COVID-19 protocols:
The agreement includes the responsibility of education being that of the RRDSB only, with all Ministry of Education directives and Board policies and procedures being upheld, including COVID-19 protocols. …
If the CPA decides not to proceed with the 2021-22 Agreement, then the RRDSB must receive this decision in writing, on or before Friday, September 17, 2021, with confirmation that: …
- all COVID-19 protocols are followed for any member of CPA entering the building during the RRDSB programming times, i.e., from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., specifically daily screening, masking, and physical distancing.
Finally, Ms. Paquette also confirms that the RRDSB will no longer deal with Mr. Kooistra:
Please note that the Board will no longer discuss the agreement with Mr. Kooistra, as they seek a CPA appointee who is reputable. Given the serious past misdeeds of Mr. Kooistra, the CPA should be very concerned about his credibility in the event that the Board moves forward with litigation for damages due to breach of contract.
(It is assumed that Ms. Paquette is referring to Mr. Kooistra’s March 2007 conviction in Nebraska for bank fraud. According to the High Plains Journal, this was a cheque kiting scheme that cost the Farm Credit Service of America more than $5 million (USD).)
December 2021: The CPA's Continued Breaches of the Agreement
By December 7, 2021, it appears that there has been no resolution to the relationship between the CPA and the RRDSB. Ms. Paquette sent another legal demand, this time informing the CPA that it is prohibited from using RRDSB resources for its homeschool program and informing the CPA to adhere to COVID-19 programs in the building. The letter states:
The Board requires the CPA secondary private school to cease using the RRDSB library and gymnasium resources. We understand from our client that the CPA has been encroaching onto the RRDSB’s school space which is contrary to the Agreement. The RRDSB is responsible for all its equipment in the gymnasium. Given the RRDSB resources and equipment belong to the RRDSB and not the CPA private secondary program, you are to cease using both spaces and the resources and equipment contained within effective today.
We also understand that the CPA private secondary students are not wearing masks outside of its space. The Agreement acknowledges that the RRDSB is solely responsible for education which includes ensuring adherence to all Ministry of Education directives and Board policies and procedures, including COVID-19 protocols. Similarly, it is our understanding that all private schools within Ontario must adhere to the Ministry of Education directives related to COVID-19. It is the Board’s expectation that your staff and students comply with all mandated COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety of all staff and students in the RRDSB space.
January 27, 2022: RRDSB Terminates Partnership with the CPA
On January 27, 2022, the RRDSB notified the CPA board that it was terminating the agreement, effective June 30, 2022. The letter from Mr. Roy to the CPA includes the following statements:
In May 2021, the Board agreed to your request to extend the Sturgeon Creek Alternative Program (Program) for one year and as such, hired staff based on this extension. In August 2021, as we geared up for another school year, we discovered that the CPA had begun its own private secondary student program, which resulted in a sudden and dramatic decline in secondary student enrolment within the Program.
In addition to contradicting our partnership agreement, CPA’s action adversely affected school board funding and resulted in teacher-student rations of less than 1:7, which are unsustainable. As a board of education that serves and supports students from across the District, we must make decisions that are in the best interests of all school communities.
Since our meeting on August 24, 2021, the Board has been in regular communication, both verbally and written, to try to reach a reasonable resolution with CPA, without success.
This letter concludes by stating that all RRDSB resources and property would be removed from the building by June 30, 2022 to wind down SCAP.
Also on January 27, 2022, the RRDSB issued a similar letter to families of SCAP students. This letter highlighted that the actions of the CPA
have given the Board grave concerns about further risk, the subsequent viability of the Student Creek Alternative Program, and the strength of our partnership going forward. This is why the partnership will not be renewed and must come to an end.
February 8, 2022: Post-Mortem
On February 8, 2022, handwritten notes prepared by Ms. Campbell suggest that a follow up meeting was held between representatives of the CPA and the RRDSB. The notes reflect “shock” on the part of the CPA, particularly that the SCAP elementary program was shut down as well.
Ms. Campbell’s notes appear to suggest that Mr. Roy indicated that there was no longer viability to the elementary and secondary program. Her notes conclude, and underscore, that COVID-19 protocols continue to be the “elephant in the room”.
The Fort Frances Times article, referred to above, was published the next day.