A former student says Legacy Christian Academy cheated her of an education

Feature by Gregory Beatty

Caitlin Erickson

For all but one year in her K-to-12 education, Caitlin Erickson attended Legacy Christian Academy in a church basement in Saskatoon’s Lawson Heights neighbourhood. The school had no playground, just a cement pad. And girls were required to wear ankle-length skirts.

Erickson is a spokesperson for the student group that has filed criminal abuse charges and launched a $25 million lawsuit against the school. In a recent Zoom interview, she described Legacy Christian Academy, which was then known as Christian Centre Academy, as having a high-stress atmosphere.

“You would go to school Monday to Friday, then you were at church three or four times a week. It was constant anxiety and stress,” she says. “Even if you weren’t doing anything wrong, there was always the possibility another student would say you were doing something wrong, or they would take something the wrong way.”

Erickson started at Legacy Christian at age four. It wasn’t until she was 10 when her family moved to another province for a year and she attended a different Christian school that she discovered that Legacy Christian wasn’t normal.

“The other school was wildly different,” she says. “They had accredited teachers and used the public-school curriculum. The classrooms were teacher-taught, not self-taught. The teachers were kind too, so there wasn’t the anxiety of going to school every day scared you might get paddled. I was able to focus on my academics.”

When Erickson returned to Legacy Christian the next year, she found the adjustment difficult.

“From a young age, I was labeled as rebellious, and that I was hyper and had a lot of energy, or was a bad egg,” she says. “The other school opened my eyes a bit: ‘Okay, I’m not actually a terrible person. I just don’t agree with a lot of the stuff that is going on.’

“With that validation, I started to push back.”

When Erickson was high-school age, she played on the girls’ volleyball team and ran track. Sports, she says, was another tool school and church officials used to manipulate students.

“If you weren’t one of the students who played, you were bottom tier. Then if you did play sports, and were someone like me, it was always held over your head. One wrong move and they’d pull me out of a game,” she says.

After awhile, she says, she simply stopped responding.

“I wasn’t going to become emotional or beg to be allowed to play. I said ‘Well, I’m not going to play volleyball in grade 12.’ Then it was, “Well, if you don’t play I don’t think you’re going to get all your credits and graduate’.

“There was the threat of withholding credits.”

Erickson says the constant stress took a toll on her mental health. “I started engaging in unhealthy behaviors like binge eating and self-harm, and became suicidal. Looking back, I don’t know how none of us didn’t end our lives. There were a lot of students struggling with self-harm and suicide by our grade 10, 11 and 12 years.”

Student mental health, and even physical health, were never discussed, says Erickson. “If you were having issues it was because you were either in sin or not giving enough in the church offering. It wasn’t until years later when I tried to address and undo a lot of the harm with professional help that I realized that.”

Erickson graduated from Legacy Christian in 2005. When she left, she says, she had a fear of the world and suffered from culture shock.

“But I met a lot of great people who showed kindness toward me, and then having people look at me and say, ‘You seem like an interesting person’ and ‘I’d like to get to know you’,” she says. “Having positive reinforcement in my life wasn’t something I’d had, so it was weird to have people be positive and not constantly find fault with everything you do.”

When Erickson looks back at her Legacy Christian education, she feels cheated.

“The majority of the ACE curriculum is very much ‘read a paragraph and fill in the blank’,” she says. “Even when you’re writing essays, they’d tell you what you were writing on. There’d be topics like ‘How much do you love your pastor?’ A lot of us who went into post-secondary had to retake high school classes just to get up to speed with what we needed,” she says.

“The government has said several times they want parents to have a choice,” says Erickson. “But I’ve never heard anything from them about a child’s choice. If they allow a school to be open in the province, whether they are funding it or not, there is a duty of responsibility to ensure basic educational goals are being met.” ■