May 27, 2014 5:48 pm

Education minister bans teachers for conduct, overruling recommendations

EDMONTON – In an unprecedented move, Alberta’s education minister overruled an oversight committee and banned three teachers for unprofessional conduct, instead of suspending their licenses as recommended.

The Alberta Teachers Association’s professional conduct hearing committee recommended suspensions in three separate cases: sex with a student, an online sexual conversation with a former student, and an assault of a student, according to documents released by the province.

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But Education Minister Jeff Johnson determined that the charges were serious enough to warrant cancelling the teachers’ licences permanently.

“I don’t know any parent that would not look at some of those and have their stomach turn,” he said on Tuesday.

The ATA’s executive secretary says this is the first time an education minister has overruled a committee decision.

“I find it interesting that no minister of education in the past has ever overturned a hearing decision of a committee,” said Gordon Thomas.  “I also find it interesting that this is happening since the minister established the Task Force for Teaching Excellence. It just seems odd that these things would be happening at the same time.”

In early May, an Alberta task force on teaching released a report that included recommendations that the ATA should no longer review the conduct of teachers when complaints are brought forward. Instead, the Task Force for Teaching Excellence said those complaints should be handled by the Education Ministry.

READ MORE: Recommendations by teaching task force slammed by ATA 

Johnson said, in the past, the ministry’s acceptance of the committee’s recommendations was more of a “rubber stamp process.”

“Because of some of things we were looking at as a ministry and because of some of the things we were seeing globally, I wanted to take a little bit closer look,” said Johnson, “and keep a stronger hand on what was actually happening.

“Some of the things I saw, quite frankly, profoundly disappointed me.”

Thomas says it looks to him like Johnson might be highlighting a few cases to prove a point.

“He is cherry-picking a bit, I think.

“Sexual misconduct is unacceptable,” says Thomas, referring to a case where a six-year suspension was recommended for a teacher who had sex with a student. “But it involves a teacher in her early twenties and a high school student, 18, who is male. Female teacher, male student get together the last weekend of the school year.”

Thomas adds that, in the vast majority of cases that involve any kind of sexual misconduct, the teacher’s career is over.

“Suspension means that you have to apply to the ATA to be readmitted to the profession. In our entire history, only one teacher has come back to teaching after being suspended.”

According to the documents, the teacher in question also pleaded guilty to giving false or misleading information to the investigating officer, and encouraging a witness to lie.

The committee imposed a penalty of: a letter of severe reprimand, a $1,000 fine, a suspension from the ATA for three years, and a recommendation to the minister of education to suspend the teacher for three years. An appeal later raised that period to six years.

“I have decided not to follow the committee’s recommendation that your teaching certificate be suspended,” wrote Johnson.

He decided to cancel her teaching certificate permanently. (Read the full documents below).

The documents show Johnson also decided to ban a teacher who was charged with – and pleaded guilty to – having a sexual conversation online with a former student via Skype, as well as having inappropriate conversations with several other students, one of which was about genital piercings.

The RCMP conducted a criminal investigation, but no charges were laid.

In that case, the hearing committee imposed a penalty of: suspension from the ATA for four years, and a recommendation to the minister of education to suspend the teacher for four years. (Read the full document below).

Another case involved a teacher who the hearing committee found guilty of yelling at students, using inappropriate language, injuring a student by kicking furniture, and throwing things towards a student or students.

That teacher was convicted of assault under the Criminal Code.

The hearing committee imposed a penalty of: a suspension from the ATA for two years, a fine of $4,000 and a recommendation to the minister of education to suspend the teacher for two years. (Read the full document below).

In all three cases, Johnson ruled the charges warranted all out bans on the teachers in question.

Thomas says he would have preferred the education minister sit down with the ATA to discuss issues with the disciplinary process, rather than go through the media.

“We need to have a conversation about what he sees as the kinds of professional conduct that should be fatal to a teacher’s career.”

“I’m quite confident we can use this and learn,” said Johnson, “along with the information we have from the task force, and make the process better. I’m confident we can work with the ATA to make it better.”

“Parents deserve to have a transparent process and that assurance that if we’re going to put our trust in the care of a teacher, and they’re being overseen by a professional body, that those standards are there.”

The ATA’s disciplinary process has been in place since 1936.  Click here for more information on how complaints about Alberta teachers’ conduct are handled.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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