Alberta teacher fined $32K for unprofessional conduct

An Alberta teacher has been ordered to pay $32,500 in fines and had her teachers’ association membership cancelled after being found guilty of eight charges of unprofessional conduct.

Cumulative fine largest ever issued by Alberta Teachers' Association

The Alberta Teachers' Association conduct committee has cancelled the membership of Frieda Anne Mennes and ordered her to pay $32,500 in fines after she was found guilty of eight charges of unprofessional conduct. ( Google Street View)

An Alberta teacher has been ordered to pay $32,500 in fines and had her teachers' association membership cancelled after being found guilty of eight charges of unprofessional conduct.

Frieda Anne Mennes was found to have treated students differently based on their academic abilities and "retaliated" against parents who raised concerns about her behaviour in the classroom.

The Alberta Teachers' Association conduct committee announced the penalties at a hearing in Edmonton on Monday.

Without membership in the association, Mennes cannot legally work for public, separate or francophone school authorities in Alberta. The committee, as is customary when a membership is cancelled, will also ask the Minister of Education to cancel Mennes' teaching certificate.

The $32,500 cumulative fine in relation to the eight charges under the Teaching Profession Act is the largest ever issued, according to the association.

Monday's hearing is the latest development in an unprecedented disciplinary process.

Long disciplinary process

A complaint against Mennes was lodged with the association in November 2016, prompting a nine-month investigation. The panel convened for the first time in March this year, the first of 23 hearings that would include testimony from 60 witnesses.

It's likely the longest disciplinary process in the association's history, said spokesperson Jonathan Teghtmeyer. It's unusual, he said, for even the most complex cases to last more than a week.

That's partly due to the bulk of evidence the committee was presented with, he said. The committee ruled on actions and comments Mennes made over a 36-year period, going back to September 1981.

Frieda Anne Mennes was contacted by CBC News on Monday afternoon, but she declined to comment.

Mennes did not appear at Monday's hearing and did not make a submission with regard to the penalties. While the investigated member can seek legal counsel, the association doesn't provide it in these cases.

The committee cancelled Mennes' membership in relation to six charges, and issued a letter of severe reprimand on the other two. The fines in relation to each charge ranged from $1,500 to $8,000.

The committee also found Mennes made false allegations of assault against a principal, sent anonymous letters to the school division making "inflammatory" comments about colleagues and made comments about students that "failed to treat students with dignity and respect and with consideration for their circumstances." 

Mennes worked in the Grasslands Public Schools Division for most of her career.  

Superintendent Scott Brandt said a third-party investigator was looking into complaints against Mennes just before the association launched their own investigation at the end of 2016. He said the school division put their own process on hold at that point.

Providing schools that are welcoming and caring and safe for all of our students, whether that is around a sense of diversity or creating a sense of belonging, is a real critical part for our school division.- Scott Brandt, superintendent Grasslands Public Schools Division

Brant declined to say whether the school division had investigated Mennes prior to 2016, adding he could only comment on actions taken during his tenure.

"Providing schools that are welcoming and caring and safe for all of our students, whether that is around a sense of diversity or creating a sense of belonging, is a real critical part for our school division," he said.

The teachers' association will only release the details of their investigation and the hearings once a written decision has been issued. The panel has 60 days to issue the written decision, at which point Mennes will have a 30-day window to file an appeal.