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Whitehorse school under scrutiny after conviction of educational assistant

Yukon's Child and Youth Advocate will do a "systemic review" of safety at a Whitehorse school after a former educational assistant was convicted for sexual interference against a special needs student.

Yukon Child and Youth Advocate to do 'systemic review' of safety at Hidden Valley Elementary

'The impacts of child abuse are influenced by how the adults respond,' said Annette King, the child and youth advocate, in a statement. (Archbould Photography)

Yukon's Child and Youth Advocate is doing a "systemic review" of safety at a Whitehorse school after a former educational assistant was convicted for sexual interference against a special needs student.

And the advocate is also urging Yukon's Department of Education to communicate to families "about the school's response to reports of harm," and assign a full-time social worker or clinical counsellor to the school.

The review and recommendations follow the 2020 conviction of a former educational assistant at Hidden Valley Elementary School. The assistant pleaded guilty to one count of sexual interference and was sentenced to six months' jail followed by two years of probation.

He's also prohibited from contacting the victim, from taking a job or doing volunteer work that would require him to be in contact with children under 16, and from being alone in a room with a child under 16 without another adult present. 

"The Department of Education has yet to provide a formal response to the incident," the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office (YCAO) said in a news release on Tuesday. 

Some parents have also written to the Department of Education, expressing frustration with the department's lack of communication about the case, or its response.

A spokesperson for Yukon's education minister said in an email to parents on Monday that a formal response from the minister would be provided "shortly."

The review and recommendations from the Yukon Child and Youth Advocate Office follow the 2020 conviction of a former educational assistant at Hidden Valley Elementary School in Whitehorse. (Google)

The YCAO is an independent office of the Legislative Assembly that is meant to represent the rights and interests of children and youth who are eligible for or receive government services. 

According to the release, the YCAO review of Hidden Valley school will aim to promote safety in schools, particularly students with special needs.

It's also meant "to ensure appropriate processes are in place to prevent abuse and to respond appropriately when abuse occurs," the release says.

The identity of the child, who was six at the time, is protected by a publication ban. CBC is not naming the educational assistant to protect the identity of the child. 

The YCAO has also not named any of the people involved in the incident.

"The impacts of child abuse are influenced by how the adults respond," said Annette King, the child and youth advocate, in a statement.

"Parents need information and guidance on how to talk to their children. They need assurance that the school will address the issues and keep their children safe."

The YCAO is recommending a counsellor or social worker be assigned to the school as support for students and educators, and also to offer resources to help parents and educators speak to kids about sexual health and sexual assault. 

Lawsuit filed by student

Last month, the student, via his father, filed a statement of claim against the educational assistant in the Yukon Supreme Court. The Yukon government is also listed as a defendant.

The lawsuit alleges that the abuse happened in 2019 and 2020, and that the Yukon government, as the educational assistant's employer, was vicariously liable for the abuse and failed to properly vet or supervise the assistant and protect the student.

The lawsuit has not been tested in court.

According to the statement of claim and documents from the criminal proceedings, the child was in the care of the educational assistant when the abuse happened. 

The abuse came to light after the child told his father the educational assistant had done a "body check" on him at a "secret room" in the school. 

Editor's noteOn Sept. 10, the Yukon RCMP identified the educational assistant in this story in a news release. CBC has edited the story to remove information that could identify the victim.

With files from Jackie Hong

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