Hidden Valley School. (John Tonin/Yukon News files)

Hidden Valley School. (John Tonin/Yukon News files)

School council claims broken promises in wake of Hidden Valley School abuse crisis

Supports pledged by government not delivered says school council in open letter.

The Hidden Valley Elementary School council is speaking out regarding a lack of follow-through on promises from the government to offer the school additional supports in the wake of revelations of sexual abuse of students by a staff member.

“Our school has suffered tremendously over the last year. The Department of Education has acknowledged missteps they took following this incident, and we were promised over and over that any supports we needed would be provided. To date, we have not received the critical supports we have requested,” reads a June 2 letter from the school council to Jeanie McLean, the Yukon’s minister of Education.

The Hidden Valley staff member convicted of sexually interfering with one student at the school and currently facing charges relating to the abuse of two more is Wiliam Auclair-Bellemare. Auclair-Bellemare was employed at the school until 2019 and dismissed following abuse allegations. He plead guilty to sexual interference of one student at the school in January 2021 and did six months in prison. The lack of a follow-up investigation seeking additional victims came to light amid media reporting of a lawsuit regarding abuse at the school last summer. The RCMP and the Yukon Department of Education were widely criticized for their conduct following the initial revelation of abuse at the school.

In the letter, the school council explains that along with the numerous other challenges created by the most recent sexual misconduct investigation, the burden on the school administration has been massive. The council writes that school administration has had to tackle the demands of assisting investigations into the sexual misconduct without support from the Department of Education. They say this adds to challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic and “many other failings of the Department of Education.”

The open letter contains a formal request for both a full time vice-principal hired on a two year term and a clinical counsellor assigned to the school for the next two years.

“This request should be honoured immediately so recruitment or assignment can begin for the 2022-23 school year,” the letter reads.

Circulated to the media along with the June 2 open letter are copies of recent correspondence between the Hidden Valley school council and Department of Education officials. Most recent among them are a May 16 letter from the school council and a May 24 reply from the minister of Education. The May 16 letter details staffing challenges and the school’s need for administrative support and invites McLean to the council’s June 1 meeting.

In her reply McLean declined the invitation, writing that the staffing matters are “operational in nature” and that there are processes in place to resolve the issues with the appropriate officials.

“We are making this request as numerous letters to your office and the Department of Education have been met with hollow statements about data-informed decisions, incomplete information, and convoluted processes. Most alarmingly, it was even recently suggested by department officials, that we rearrange resources in our school to ‘create’ a vice principal position. This would mean pulling from learning assistance or educational assistance staff to create the position ourselves,” the June 2 letter reads.

It also calls on the leaders of the opposition Yukon Party, the Yukon NDP and the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate to hold McLean and Premier Sandy Silver accountable for the resource promises they made.

A June 3 statement from the Yukon Party calls on the government to provide the supports requested by the school.

Contact Jim Elliot at jim.elliot@yukon-news.com