'Mom, I have a creepy teacher': mother says daughter's concerns minimized by school

The mother of a Winnipeg teen says her daughter's school failed to address concerns around a teacher. While investigating allegations of inappropriate touching, she says the administration violated confidentiality and was quick to defend the actions of the teacher.

'She was countered by a person in a position of authority defending the school,' mom says

A Winnipeg mother says her daughter's school failed her when she came forward with concerns about a teacher. (Shutterstock/iChzigo)

He touched her, it made her feel uncomfortable and she wanted it to stop, a Winnipeg high school student told her mother about one of her classroom teachers.

What followed, the mother says, is a botched investigation and a devastated daughter who no longer wants to attend school.

CBC is calling the mother Janine in order to protect the identity of the daughter who reported that her teacher had put his hands on her and, in one instance, laid his head on her shoulder.

"There were a series of comments over about four weeks — 'Mom, I have a creepy teacher. Mom, he bonks his head on my shoulder. Mom, kids are teasing me that he has a crush on me,'" Janine said.

Janine took her daughter's concerns to the principal of the school last month.

"When I approached it with the principal, I said, 'I understand that this sort of thing can ruin lives … and I do not want to do that. So, look into it; let's keep this quiet, let's not let this blow out of proportion,' and [the principal] was very appreciative of that," Janine said.

A few days after Janine spoke to the principal, she said she learned that as part of the principal's investigation into the matter, she revealed her daughter's name to the teacher.

"I was really concerned for my daughter and upset because I recognize that when a name is disclosed, the interaction between a teacher and student is going to be different, and it didn't have to be. This could have been handled and corrected simply without now subjecting my daughter with having to go to classes with this individual knowing that her parent had filed a complaint," said Janine.

The breach of privacy is concerning to Jon Bradley, a former dean of the faculty of education at McGill University who has four decades of experience working with school boards.

"You don't name the kid — you just ruined that kid. This would be a terrible, terrible mistake on the part of the principal," Bradley said in response to the allegations.

The high school is within Pembina Trails School Division, which has the following policy on student confidentiality:

"Students and employees have the right to take assertive action should they encounter harassment in the learning or working environment. They have the right to expect confidentiality amongst the parties involved and to have a reasonable degree of privacy as the matter is resolved."

The document does not explain what happens if that privacy is violated, nor does it provide instruction for complainants who feel their concerns are ignored.

Superintendent Ted Fransen declined an interview, but in a statement wrote that formal complaints are rare.

"We think it is important to stress, that we take all concerns seriously and do our best to work towards a positive outcome," he said.

Janine said she has made several attempts to contact the superintendent without success.

Policies lack precision, clarity

Murky policy is a problem in school boards across Canada, Bradley said.

"In my 42 years of working with school boards, I have seen such a minefield of rules and regulations. I have always said to school boards, 'Your rules and regulations have got to be precise. People need to know what's happening,'" Bradley said.

After the investigation, her daughter's marks went down on two occasions but were corrected after the teacher said he made a mistake, Janine said. Her daughter's desk was moved away from a friend and closer to an educational assistant, which the girl felt was punitive. The mother insisted on further action from the principal.

The principal arranged a one-on-one meeting to hear the student's side of the story in what Janine was told would be a fact-finding mission. Janine said her daughter went to the meeting with a list of explanations for why she felt uncomfortable in her teacher's classroom, but each was quickly dismissed by the principal.

"Any item on the list that my daughter wanted to talk about was already countered with a 'This is why he does it.' She also told my daughter, when my daughter mentioned the head on the shoulder, that, the principal told her, he denies doing that. So in my daughter's eyes, she was just called a liar," said Janine.

"She went in for an open investigation, willing to talk about what had happened to her — and she has been in a very vulnerable state — and she was countered by a person in a position of authority with an answer for everything, defending the school."

Need for neutral investigator

Bradley said schools need clearer policies and complaints procedures.

Lester B. Pearson School Board in Montreal is an example of how complaints should be handled, Bradley said. It has a bylaw that outlines its complaint examination procedure and includes a student ombudsman. The policy also gives clear instruction about how a complainant can file an appeal.

"I would say the principal should not be involved at all. You need an outside person who will very swiftly ascertain the facts to the best of their ability. That inquiry will determine two things — the accusation is without foundation or the accusation has merit. That's all," said Bradley.

For Janine, the inquiry into her daughter's complaint was never given a chance, and the effects of the experience have been damaging.

"She's different. She's down, she's not socializing as much, she's sad. And I know she feels like the school did not believe her."