Montreal·CBC Investigates

Lake of Two Mountains High School teacher charged with assaulting student

The mother of a child allegedly struck by a teacher at Lake of Two Mountains High School believes school board officials were too slow in removing him from the classroom. Now she's further unsettled by David Russell Pratt's history of professional misconduct in Ontario.

​​​​​​​David Russell Pratt disciplined by Ontario College of Teachers in 2003 after sexual acts with 3 teens

At the end of May 2019, teacher David Russell Pratt was charged with assault and criminal harassment for an alleged incident involving a student at Lake of Two Mountains High School. (David Pratt/Facebook)

The mother of a child allegedly struck by a teacher at Lake of Two Mountains High School believes school board officials were too slow in removing him from the classroom.

The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board suspended the teacher, David Russell Pratt, several days after the incident — but only after the mother filed a police complaint.

"Before you protect your teachers, you really should be protecting your kids," said Donna.

CBC News is not using her real name, nor that of her son, due to privacy concerns.

School board at first did nothing, says mother

Donna said she was first made aware of the alleged assault after another parent emailed her in January.

Her son, Matt, had told a friend he'd been punched by Pratt, his math teacher.

The friend's parent contacted Donna to make sure she knew what had happened.

"Kids, they're scared of adults," said Donna. She thinks Matt stayed quiet because he was worried he'd be more of a target if he complained.

The alleged assault happened at Lake of Two Mountains High School in Deux-Montagnes, Que., in January 2019. (Louis-Marie Philidor/CBC)

When he finally opened up, she said, Matt told her he had just gotten up from his desk to show Pratt his work.

The teacher was sitting on a chair with wheels and rolled over to him, Matt explained, and without warning, punched him in the chest. Matt said Pratt then twisted his shirt and forcibly pulled him back down into his seat.

Donna said her son told her the sound of the hit was "loud enough that it startled people in the class."

She's thankful there was an adult witness: a class attendant who saw the alleged assault.

Both her son and the attendant reported the incident to the school principal. But to Donna's astonishment, Pratt continued to teach.

'Super-hard decision' to go to police

Terrified of seeing Pratt again, Matt refused to go back to school.

Donna decided she'd have to go to the police if that's what it would take to get Pratt suspended.

She resents the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board for leaving her to shoulder the handling of the incident alone.

"It was extremely upsetting, and it was a super-hard decision," Donna said.

Following Donna's police complaint, the principal told her Pratt would not be in class "for the time being."

Donna said she then emailed the school board with the police report number and told them in writing how "unacceptable" she felt the teacher's behaviour was.

She said no one from the school board ever contacted her to follow up.

At the very least, she said, she would have liked to know the duration of Pratt's suspension so her son didn't run into him unexpectedly at school.

"It's disgusting, actually," she said. "I feel like it's just being brushed under the carpet."

Board says it acted 'expediently'

The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board would not discuss the details of David Russell Pratt's case with CBC News but said in an email Pratt was removed from the classroom 'the same week' the board was made aware of the alleged assault. (Louis-Marie Philidor/CBC)

Due to confidentiality, the Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board would not discuss the specifics of Pratt's case with CBC News, but it said in an email it acted "expediently."

The board's spokesperson, Maxeen Jolin, said students' safety is the board's "utmost priority."

Jolin said, in general, the school board assesses whether there is imminent danger to students. If their safety is threatened in any way, Jolin said, it is the board's duty to take the necessary steps.

"While we respected the collective agreement, the individual was relieved from their functions in the same week we were made aware of the situation," she said in an email.

Pratt warned about conduct in 1999

With Pratt gone and Matt back at school, Donna got more shocking news.

Someone sent her a link to a disciplinary report from Ontario, involving a teacher with the same name. CBC News has confirmed the report involves the same person.

In Quebec, teacher disciplinary hearings are confidential, but in Ontario, disciplinary reports are publicly available online.

In 2003, the disciplinary panel of the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT) found Pratt guilty of professional misconduct for picking up teenage girls for sexual purposes in Hamilton.

"That made me sick to my stomach," said Donna.

According to the OCT report, in September 1998, Pratt is alleged to have approached a pair of girls, aged 14 and 16, offering them a lift. They refused.

Hamilton police investigated, and following that, Pratt's employer, the Halton Region District School Board, wrote him a cautionary letter in early 1999. At the time, Pratt was teaching at a public elementary school in Milton, Ont.

Disciplined for professional misconduct

However, the report said, less than three years later, in 2001, Pratt participated in sexual acts with three other adolescent girls, aged 15, 16 and 17 — in each case, engaging in sexual touching after they got into his car.

In July 2001, Pratt was charged with sexual assault and forcible confinement involving the 17-year-old, who was a prostitute, and put on paid leave. He was ultimately found not guilty in that case, at which time the Crown withdrew sexual assault charges involving the two other teens.

In all three of the 2001 cases, Pratt told the college's disciplinary panel he didn't know how old the girls were but acknowledged he was "not appropriately concerned" about their ages.

Pratt admitted to taking part in acts unbecoming to his profession and was found guilty of professional misconduct in the fall of 2003.

The OCT's disciplinary panel ruled that Pratt's teaching certificate be suspended for two months unless he underwent a psychiatric evaluation stating he was fit to return to the classroom.

Due to privacy rules, the college would not tell CBC News whether Pratt met this condition. However, on its website, Pratt is listed as a teacher in good standing.

Following that disciplinary ruling, according to Pratt's Facebook profile, he moved to Bonn, Germany in 2004. He returned to Canada some years later, and by the time of the alleged attack on Matt, he'd been teaching at Lake of Two Mountains High School for at least five years.

Charged with assault, harassment

In May 2019, Pratt was charged with assault and criminal harassment in relation to the alleged classroom incident involving Matt.

When contacted by CBC News, Pratt, 54, would not comment, saying he felt the timing was "inappropriate."

Lake of Two Mountains High School principal Christina Shousha did not reply to CBC's inquiries about the matter.

The Sir Wilfrid Laurier School Board also declined to comment on Pratt's case because it is before the courts.

When it comes to hiring new teachers, the board says it verifies teaching permits through a system put in place by the provincial government.

The board says it always checks a candidate's references and asks potential teachers to agree to a criminal background check by police. The school board's application form also asks about any prior dismissals by another employer.

Too bad Quebec records kept secret: ethics expert

Nick Scarfo, an assistant professor of education who specializes in law and professional ethics at the University of Toronto, says the onus is on the employer to check the references and background of an applicant. (Submitted by Nick Scarfo)

"The onus does lie with the hiring employer to check the references and check the background of an individual," said Nick Scarfo, an assistant professor of education who specializes in law and professional ethics at the University of Toronto.

"I don't know how diligent they were with their review of this particular applicant."

Although Pratt is listed in good standing by the OCT, an employer is free to review his disciplinary file in Ontario before making a hiring decision, said Scarfo.

He said it's unfortunate school disciplinary hearings are confidential in Quebec.

"As teachers, we're held to a higher level because we're dealing with kids," he said. "This behind-closed-door situation only breeds more contempt and mistrust in the public, and I don't think that's good for anybody."

Donna is left unsettled by Pratt's history in Ontario.

"It just blows my mind," she said.

Pratt will be back in court in August.

About the Author

Leah Hendry is a TV, radio and online journalist with CBC Montreal Investigates. Contact her via our confidential tipline: 514-597-5155 or on email at montrealinvestigates@cbc.ca.