New Brunswick·CBC Investigates

Mother calls for province to start publicizing teacher discipline

An Oromocto-area teacher was moved to a new school after she was disciplined for inappropriate conduct with a student but few details are known about the case because of the secretive rules around teacher discipline.

CBC News investigation has uncovered details on a previously-secret case of teacher discipline

Sheryl Finnigan wants the province to start making details of teacher discipline public, after being told she couldn't know full details about the findings of an investigation into her son's teacher. (CBC)

CBC News has learned that an Oromocto-area teacher was moved to a new school after she was disciplined in secret for inappropriate conduct with a student.

Hundreds of people have signed an online petition in support of former Oromocto High School teacher Amanda Pottle, with many comments saying the complaint against her was untrue.

The Anglophone West School District concluded the complaint was founded, but that result was never made public.

If Sheryl Finnigan lived in Ontario or British Columbia, the findings of an investigation into her son's teacher would have been public.

Because Finnigan lives in New Brunswick, officials won't tell her what investigators learned about the teacher's inappropriate conduct toward her then-17-year-old son.

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The student's mother tells CBC News that because the disciplinary process was carried out in secret, two students, including her son, have chosen to transfer to schools out of town to escape misinformation and bullying about the case.

"I didn't sit at the kitchen table for the first few weeks that he was gone, because I couldn't sit there with this empty spot beside me," Finnigan said.

'I couldn't believe my ears'

Finnigan thought Pottle — a popular teacher who was also manager of the boys' hockey team — could be a good influence on her son.

She said that opinion changed in late November, after her son became ill.

Finnigan said she called Pottle to ask her to tell the coach that her son couldn't play hockey because he was sick.

She said she then went out with her husband to buy her son medicine.

Finnigan surveys her son's mostly-empty bedroom. She said her son had to transfer schools to get away from gossip about an investigation into his teacher. (CBC)

When she returned, her son told her Pottle brought him popsicles and Gatorade while he was in bed, with only his teenaged step-brother at home with him, she said.

"She came into the house and went into his bedroom," she said.

"I found that completely disturbing."

Finnigan said her son told her he didn't have a sexual relationship with Pottle.

On Dec.14, another student's mother ran into Pottle and Finnigan's son together at Fredericton's Regent Mall in the middle of the school day.

"To me, it's outrageous that a teacher would ever even do that," she said. 

The mother asked not to be named to protect her family.

She was later interviewed by an investigator with the district.

She saved a receipt from a purchase she made during the mall encounter. 

"I kept it because I almost think that some day, sadly, it might come into evidence for something."

That mother told Finnigan what she encountered.

School officials later discovered that Pottle had signed the teen out of school several times without his parents' permission, Finnigan said.

The revelations left her "completely shocked."

Finnigan says she was "completely shocked" when she visited Oromocto High School and learned her son's teacher had been signing him out of class without her permission. (CBC)

"I couldn't believe my ears, really, to be honest with you."

The Anglophone West School District launched a misconduct investigation into Pottle's conduct on Dec. 18, according to a letter received by Finnigan.

The letter states "the nature of the concerns to be investigated under this category is: attempting to pursue, isolate or see pupils individually without valid reason." 

She thinks Pottle crossed a boundary with her son, who declined to be interviewed for this story.

"I don't blame him," Finnigan said. "It's not his fault. She was his guidance counsellor, teacher, hockey manager. She was in an authority position all around the board. I don't know why she took a special interest in him to that extent. But it's concerning."

Pottle told CBC News that she wishes she could comment, but says the union lawyer told her not to.

Blake Robichaud, a spokesman with the New Brunswick Teachers' Association, said the body that represents anglophone teachers in the province doesn't comment on personnel issues.

Guilty finding

Documents obtained by CBC News from the school district investigation show Pottle was found guilty of misconduct at the conclusion of the investigation.

Policy 701 defines misconduct as "negative conduct toward pupils that would be judged inappropriate by professionals in the New Brunswick public education system."

District officials refused to tell Finnigan more about what was found in that investigation, revealing only that Pottle was transferred to a new school.

Finnigan said Karen Morton, the district's director of human resources, told her that revealing more would go against provincial policy.

Documents obtained by CBC News show Amanda Pottle was found guilty of misconduct in a school district investigation. Details of what investigators found and the discipline handed out to Pottle haven't been made public. (Facebook)

David McTimoney, the district superintendent, declined an interview about the case.

He said the province's Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act prevents him from sharing details "relating to the employment history of a teacher."

In April, a CBC Marketplace investigation assigned New Brunswick failing grades for its secrecy around teacher discipline.

The province declined to reveal any names, details or even locations where teachers had been disciplined.

A second investigation

Finnigan alleges Pottle continued to contact her son after she was disciplined.

Finnigan provided documents to CBC News which she says show Pottle and her son texted about a petition that calls for her reinstatement at Oromocto High.

"I didn't know it was like this," Pottle texted the teen. "I knew you cared, and that was enough. I didn't know others did."

That was after the district and union told Pottle not to contact Finnigan's son, according to copies of emails.

​Finnigan also provided copies of the texts to the school district. A second investigation about the continued contact was launched on March 15.

In a letter to Finnigan, the district says the new allegations may be categorized under misconduct or the more serious of category of abuse.

Sheryl Finnigan looks at paperwork given to her by Anglophone West School District about an investigation into her son's teacher. (CBC)

Abuse is defined as "behaviour of adults in the school system which is counter to the position of trust conferred upon adults in the school system."

More than 800 supporters

In February, Emily McHugh, a former Oromocto High student, created an online petition calling for Pottle to be reinstated.

The petition, called "Bring Back Pottle," describes the popular teacher as "the glue to our school" and "a motherly figure." 

It's garnered more than 800 signatures, including a post from Finnigan's son in support of Pottle.

More than 800 people signed an online petition in support of Amanda Pottle. (Redmond Shannon/CBC)

McHugh, 18, believes Pottle's punishment was unfair.

"The point of the petition was not to cause stuff," McHugh said.

"It was to start a positive discussion about the positive impact Amanda has had on everyone's lives."

Despite the district's guilty finding, some of the signatures on the petition refer to the complaint against Pottle as "unfounded" and "lies."

"She was found not to have done anything wrong," one comment says.

"Innocent. So why punish her? So what punishment has the truly guilty party received, nothing I bet."

Finnigan said the comments on the petition made it easier for incorrect information to spread through town.

Around the same time, Finnigan's son moved to another part of the province to finish his last semester of high school.

"He's just had some moments where he struggled, a lot, and it's not fair," she said.

'This was an Amanda Todd situation'

Finnigan's son wasn't the only teenager who transferred schools after the investigation into Pottle.

Cindy Legacy said her 17-year-old daughter went to the principal of Oromocto High in December with unrelated concerns.

While there, Legacy said her daughter told the principal she saw Finnigan's son inside Pottle's car on school grounds.

According to Legacy, school officials said her daughter's comments didn't prompt the investigation into Pottle. Her daughter was later interviewed as part of the district's investigation.

Cindy Legacy says a petition in support of Amanda Pottle fuelled rumours that her daughter sparked the investigation into the teacher. She says her daughter was bullied and transferred to a school elsewhere in the province as a result. (Redmond Shannon/CBC)

Legacy said she believes some of the posts on the petition fuelled the idea that her daughter triggered the investigation into Pottle, making her the target of hateful messages on social media.

"This was an Amanda Todd situation," Legacy said.

"She was bullied so bad, we did not leave her side. We were afraid, maybe this is going to be too much, you know, maybe this will be too much and maybe she just wouldn't be able to cope."

Like Finnigan's son, Legacy's daughter would not return to Oromocto High.

2 empty bedrooms

In Finnigan's home, most of her son's things are gone from his bedroom.

An Oromocto Blues hat sits beside a stack of books on a nearly-bare shelf.

She said she believes the community reaction might have been different if details of the case weren't kept secret.

"Two students in their graduating year, hauled out of school, hauled out of their parents' home, empty bedrooms, at other schools," she said.

"It just doesn't seem right."

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