Discipline for teacher misconduct often handled in secret, Marketplace finds

A CBC Marketplace investigation finds details of disciplinary action are often kept from the public, even when teachers are found guilty of serious offences.

What can you find out about action taken against your kid’s teacher? In many provinces, nothing

A CBC Marketplace investigation finds details of disciplinary action are often kept from public, even when teachers are found guilty of serious offences. (CBC)

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, probably not.

A CBC Marketplace investigation into the way provinces handle the issue of teacher discipline reveals few provinces and territories make that information available, and most keep even the most serious cases private.

"We know that there are more incidents going on than are publicly reported, and we have very good evidence that many of these cases are buried," says Paul Bennett, a former teacher and principal who now researches teacher discipline at Saint Mary's University in Halifax.

Compared to other professions involving public trust, there is little information made available about teachers who have been disciplined.

When such information is kept secret, the public has no way of knowing if problem teachers are actually being removed from the classroom, Bennett says.

Marketplace used information the provinces have released, both publicly and through access-to-information requests, to create an unofficial report card of provincial accountability.

Marketplace's unofficial report card

Only headline-grabbing cases made public

Marketplace filed requests under each province and territory's access-to-information laws, asking for statistics on the number of teachers disciplined, the reasons they were disciplined, the names of the schools where the incidents took place and the names of the teachers involved.

There were stark differences in the often sparse information that came back.

Ontario and British Columbia are the only two provinces with public databases on teacher records, meaning you can look up a teacher by name to find out if there has been disciplinary action taken against him or her. Reasons for disciplinary action range from abuse of sick days to verbal, physical or sexual abuse.

'We know that there are more incidents going on than are publicly reported and we have very good evidence that many of these cases are buried,' says Paul Bennett, a former principal who now researches teacher discipline at St. Mary’s University in Halifax. (CBC)
Saskatchewan just launched a teacher database but it won't contain earlier complaints and there are no decisions in the database yet.

Every other province and territory would not release the names of teachers found guilty of misconduct, even for teachers found guilty of serious offences, including sexual and physical abuse of students. Most provinces and territories did not release locations or the reasons teachers were disciplined.

P.E.I. was the only province that revealed to CBC the names of the schools where the offences occurred.

"What we've learned is unless you're charged with a criminal offence, the school boards tend to deal with it at a lower level. They only take it seriously when there's a criminal offence and they're forced to take action," says Bennett.

"Unless you are committing a gross misconduct or a sexual offence, or you're totally incompetent, you're unlikely to face any discipline and you certainly won't be removed," he says. 

Canada versus the U.S.

In total, fewer than 400 teaching certificates were revoked in Canada from 2005 to 2015. The data doesn't include Quebec, where access requests weren't returned in time to be included in the Marketplace investigation.

A province-by-province look at revoked teaching certificates. (CBC)

That number is low compared with other countries, according to Bennett.

"In jurisdictions outside Canada, where they have more stringent rules, the percentage of teachers that are severely disciplined and had their licences revoked is higher."

Excluding Quebec, Canada revokes on average one in every 5,780 teacher certificates each year.

In the U.S., the revocation rate is about 30 per cent higher. According to the most recent data from the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification, one certificate out of every 4,360 was revoked in 2015.

How much the public can find out?

Provinces that have had inquiries into teacher regulation have more independent, transparent systems for regulating the profession, says Bennett.

In Ontario and British Columbia, the provinces have an independent system in charge of handling teacher complaints and parents can look up the disciplinary record of their child's teacher online. But across most of the country, the system is less transparent.

In some provinces, regulatory bodies have fought to keep information private from outside scrutiny. In 2014, an effort by Alberta's then-education minister Jeff Johnson to understand teacher discipline by attempting to get records from school boards was attacked by the Alberta Teachers' Association.

The association's president responded at the time that "anecdotal reports ... in no way justify the minister's intrusive demand for employment information that, frankly, is none of his business."

Johnson put the request on hold after the uproar.

Parents in Alberta can currently contact the union to find out about disciplinary decisions against a specific teacher. The information is also reported in the organization's publication ATA News, an educational newspaper sent to educators and published online.

Saskatchewan recently overhauled its system. Until recently, the union was in charge of disciplining teachers but new legislation created an independent body at the end of 2015.

In a news statement released last July, provincial Education Minister Don Morgan called the creation of the Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board a step toward "a more transparent and clear process."

Why transparency is important

In British Columbia, where teacher regulation is run by Commissioner Bruce Preston, the former judge wrote that he has faced "frequent criticism" for asking that fraudulent sick leave be reported to his office by school districts.

But since infractions of fraudulent leave were made public, claims of sick leave to attend events or take holidays "appear to be less common," the office's 2014-2015 report says.

Public access to more serious disciplinary decisions in provinces where there is little available would improve the system "significantly," says Bennett.

"It would make everyone much more attuned to the importance of performing well and it would give those teachers that are doing a great job­­ — and that's the majority of them­­ — some confidence that they were actually in a profession." ­


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