Posts Tagged ‘Teacher Discipline’

A Winnipeg substitute teacher working at Acadia Junior High School was charged in early March 2023 with sexual assault through social media. On one occasion, over a seven-month-period in 2021 and 2022, the 32-year-old Pembina Hills School District teacher allegedly tried to kiss the girl at school, but she pulled away and ran to escape. Acting upon a report filed with Winnipeg Police Service in October 2022, the suspect was charged with sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching.

What might have been dismissed, years ago, as an isolated incident, is now acknowledged as a small example of a much broader problem – the rising incidence of reports of child sexual abuse and online harassment. Two notorious cases stand out on the policy landscape: Oakville middle school music teacher Gavin Bradford who, back in the early 2000s, harassed some 21 teen girls on MSN Messenger, then taught for two years in Scotland, and an Ontario-licenced  Manitoba teacher, sacked for sending out “vulgar and demeaning comments” who was found, six years later, to be engaging in “aggressive and unprofessional behaviour” in Nunavut. 

Sexual abuse and harassment of children and teens by adults, including teachers and school staff, is no longer a taboo subject.  Since October 2017, and the arrest of former Hollywood director Harvey Weinstein, the hashtag #Me Too has been a powerful force encouraging women to publicly share their personal experiences of sexual assault and harassment.

With the spread of the “Me Too’ movement, the public mood has hardened, especially when it comes to residential institutions, social service agencies, and public schools.  Highly publicized cases of sexual abuse and online harassment, national child protection reports, and investigative journalism have moved the needle and nudged provincial education authorities in the right direction.

Provincial registries of teacher misconduct and professional standards bodies have expanded to the point where establishing a national registry is feasible.  It has also rendered visible for all to see the ‘donut hole’ at the centre – the total absence of a pan-Canadian registry of teacher misconduct to close the remaining gaps in our web of safeguards.

Shifts in public attitudes mean it is no longer acceptable to maintain a code of silence or to give de facto protection to predators shielded by layers of entrenched legal protections. Nor is it good enough to leave much of the oversight to a loosely coordinated, variegated patchwork of regulatory agencies, certification registrars, school boards and teachers’ unions.

For most of the past three decades, Canada’s schools ran on the basis of trust when it came to classroom teachers. Shocking investigative news reports, including those of CBC-TV Marketplace (April 2016), The Toronto Star (September 2011 and April 2018), and Fredericton reporter Katrina Clarke for Brunswick News (July-October, 2018), attracted plenty of public attention, before the ‘policy talk’ faded away.

Lifting the Veil on Sexual Abuse

Five years ago, that began to change with the release of the first national report of the Winnipeg-based Canadian Centre for Child Protection and the founding of Cybertip.ca.  Sexual abuse in schools became the lightning rod that’s driving the most recent wave of teacher discipline and professional standards reforms.

The latest study published by the Canadian Centre Child Protection in November 2022 found, between 2017 and 2021, 548 alleged victims came forward to report sex abuse in schools. It documented 252 current or former school personnel — working in Canadian elementary and high schools — committed, or were accused of committing, offences of a sexual nature against a minimum of 548 children.

The aggregate data, cobbled together from a review of disciplinary records, media sources, and criminal case law, showed an increase in abuse reports since first report released five years ago. This new study also found another 38 current or former school personnel were criminally charged for stand-alone child pornography-related offences.

While child sexual abuse attracts headlines, physical and emotional abuse can still go unreported, and it is often related to teacher mental health, burnout, and stress. Much of the legislative action is also focused on ‘weeding out’ so-called ‘bad apples’ in the profession.  That narrowly-circumscribed approach tends to obscure a missing piece – upholding and safeguarding teacher competence.

The CBC-TV Marketplace investigation, back in April 2016, flagged cases of teachers’ bullying children and struggling to maintain control over their classrooms.  Professional codes of conduct, teacher training, and classroom supervision all need to be reviewed to ensure that students inhabit safe and mutually-respectful classrooms conducive to learning.

Filling the Vacuum in National Leadership

The critical need for a national registry of teachers found to have engaged in professional misconduct is becoming clearer each year.  Two recent attempts by provincial ministers of education to promote a national registry, presented to the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC), in 2005 and again in 2018, went nowhere. Back in 2005, the CMEC feasibility study advised against establishing such a body, citing complications in enacting legislative changes, costs of implementation, and the potential for missing teachers flying under the radar.  It’s back for consideration now that four or five provinces have established or are in the process of establishing teacher registries recording and making public cases of teacher misconduct and dismissal for professional incompetence.

Alberta Education Minister Adriana LaGrange has championed the cause for the past three years.  In the wake of a highly publicized 2019 case of teacher sexual abuse in Calgary, Alberta LaGrange made it her mission to make classrooms safer for students and to close the loopholes in regulatory oversight. While introducing her Alberta Students First reforms, Minister LaGrange pointed out that the regulatory system from province-to-province has “gaps” that allow ‘bad apples’ to escape detection and continue to teach in our classrooms. Desjardins 2022

Citing the case where the Onario licenced teacher re-offended in Nunavut, LaGrange took the issue up in a letter in March 2020 to Nova Scotia Education Minister Zach Churchill, then acting of Chair of CMEC. “As Ministers of Education,’ she wrote, “we have a moral obligation to ensure our children and our staff are safe.” Since CMEC discussions are confidential, we have no way of assessing the response to her proposal to form a “working group” to examine the development of “a national registry” of “teachers who have been found guilty of abusing their authority”

Closing the Gap in Teacher Regulation

Provincial education ministers, child protection advocates, and education researchers are beginning to come-together and find consensus on the need for more robust and integrated teacher discipline policy and practice.   Entrusting this responsibility to the Canadian Teachers Federation is not a viable long-term solution because the unions are in conflict, serving two masters – the alleged victims and their own members.   Without a federal education department, it’s up to the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC) to acknowledge the service gap, support pro-active provincial reforms, and clear away the remaining obstacles standing in the way of progress on a national scale.

*A commentary based upon “Lifting the Veil and Closing the Loopholes: Professional Standards, Teacher Misconduct and Regulatory Reform,” a presentation to CAPSLE 2023, Fredericton, NB, May 1, 2023. 

Why are Canada’s provincial authorities gradually, one-after-another, tightening teacher regulations and opting for fuller public disclosure of teacher misconduct? How much of a factor was the “Me Too” Movement in changing public attitudes and the stance of school authorities? Why did it take highly publicized reports of gross misconduct and two nation-wide reports from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection? Will Manitoba’s adoption of tougher regulations tip the balance? How much faith do you have in the only national body overseeing education, CMEC, the Council of Ministers of Education Canada?

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A model Grade 6 classroom in Sherwood Park, Alberta, now comes fully equipped with every imaginable solution to coping with fidgety kids, including spin bikes, exercise balls, rotating stools and stand-up desks. The latest classroom pacifiers, ‘Wiggle stools,’ are being hailed as a godsend by a harried Grade 2 classroom teacher in a Sackville, NB.

jumpyclassroomsherwoodparkSchools across Canada went to great lengths to re-engage fidgety students in what will likely always be known as the Year of Self-Regulation. Coping with today’s restless generation of kids now requires every conceivable pacifier, including spin bikes, exercise balls, wiggle stools and stand-up desks.

That is why in any Canadian survey of the top five K-12 education issues in 2016, coping with today’s antsy students would top the list.

Mindfulness and Self-Regulation

High anxiety educators have also embraced the latest panacea known as ‘mindfulness’ and are going whole hog into ‘self-regulation’ of their students.  It’s the brainchild of American advocate Jon Kabat-Zinn who transformed ‘Buddhist mindfulness’ into teaching practice and his Canadian apostle York University’s Stuart Shanker. That approach has emerged in 2016 as the latest wave in what has been characterized as a pseudoscience reform movement.

wobblechairsdallastx“It helps with their focus, helps with their creativity, helps promote problem-solving, gives them some way to self-regulate as they have a place to burn-off energy or to gain energy as they need it,” Alberta teacher Kurt Davison told Global TV News Edmonton. Eleven-year-old Connor Harrower heartily agreed: “In other classes, I’m sitting at desks and I’m bored.”

Teacher Misconduct and Discipline

A CBC-TV Marketplace investigation into ‘Teacher Discipline’ in Canada’s provincial school systems aired in April 2016 and immediately drew attention to glaring weaknesses in  professional evaluation, regulation, and discipline. It revealed that only two provinces, Ontario and British Columbia, provide public access to teacher discipline records, and most of the others continue to conceal information from parents and the public, including cases of serious misconduct, incompetence and sexual abuse

Fewer than 400 teaching certificates were revoked in Canada (outside Quebec) over a ten year period from 2005 to 2015, which represented one in every 5,780 teacher certificates each year. In the U.S., the revocation rate was about 30 per cent higher. According to the most recent data from the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, the American figure in 2015 was one certificate out of every 4,360.

The Marketplace investigation raised a fundamental question: If your child’s teacher was punished for a serious offence such as sexual, physical or verbal misconduct, would you be able to find out about it? Depending on where you live, the answer was ‘probably not.’

Chronic Student Math Woes

Ontario students, like those in most Canadian provinces, continued to struggle mightily in mathematics. Grade 4 Ontario students lagged behind their counterparts in Kazakhstan, Lithuania and 25 other jurisdictions in mathematics, landing them in the middle of the pack in the 2015 TIMSS assessment, a U.S.-based global study of math and science.

Those startling TIMSS results came on the heels of a dismal showing from Grade 3 and 6 students on the latest provincial test by the Education Quality and Accountability Office (EQAO), with scores dropping to the lowest levels in more than 15 years. Only 63 per cent of Grade 3s met the acceptable standard, dropping to half in Grade 6.

Math standards advocates such as Teresa Murray of @FixONTmath claimed that pumping $60-million more into a math strategy might not make much of a difference without a return to teaching the fundamentals in the early grades.

B.C. ‘Class Composition’ Court Ruling

The British Columbia Teachers’ Federation (BCTF) won a critical Supreme Court of Canada decision in November 2016 that ended a union legal battle that began in 2002. That ruling immediately restored clauses removed from the B.C. teachers’ contract by the Gordon Campbell Liberal Government dealing with class size, the number of special needs students in a class, and the number of specialist teachers required in schools.

The BCTF court victory was forecasted to have far-reaching ramifications for contact negotiations across Canada. Teachers in Nova Scotia embroiled in a contract dispute of their own took heart from the decision prohibiting the ‘stripping’ of ‘working conditions’ and denying teachers the right to bargain on those issues.

PISA 2015 Test Results Fallout

Crowing about the showing of Canadian students in the 2015 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report was widespread and the current Chair of the Council of Ministers of Education (CMEC), P.E.I. Education Minister Doug Currie, was first-off-the mark on December 6, 2016 to hail the student results in the three subjects tested: science, reading and math.

The real devil was evident in the details and more clearly portrayed in the OECD’s own “Country Profile” for Canada. Yes, 15-year-olds in three Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, and Quebec) achieved some excellent results, but overall Mathematics scores were down, especially in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and students in over half of our provinces trailed-off into mediocrity in terms of performance. Our real success was not in performance, but rather in reducing the achievement gap adversely affecting disadvantaged students.

Final Words of Wisdom

Looking ahead to 2017, we can find some solace in the April 2016 comments of Dr. Stan Kutcher, one of the world’s leading experts on teen mental health. “We are not facing a mental health crisis in schools,” he pointed out, but we do have to learn to distinguish between “the daily slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” and those “more serious conditions requiring treatment.”

Why and how did Canadian elementary schools become so enthralled with “mindfulness” and “self-regulation”?  What critical education issues were either obscured or ignored in pursuit of pseudo-scientific cures for today’s classroom challenges? What will be the legacy of turning the younger grades into therapeutic classroom environments? What does all of this portend for Canadian K-12 education in 2017 and beyond? 

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