Nova Scotia

Education minister condemns teacher who berated student

Nova Scotia's education minister has called an incident in which a teacher berated a teenage girl with an auditory processing disorder "egregious" and "an embarrassment to the system."

Zach Churchill says meeting with Amy Bennett could amount to ‘political interference’

Education Minister Zach Churchill has condemned the actions of the teacher, but will not meet with Amy Bennett and her family. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's education minister has called an incident in which a teacher berated a teenage girl with an auditory processing disorder "egregious" and "an embarrassment to the system."

Zach Churchill was reacting to the incident involving 13-year-old Amy Bennett, who was yelled at by her gym teacher for more than three minutes in the main hallway of Bayview Community School in Mahone Bay, N.S., on June 4, 2018.

A nine-month investigation concluded there was an "abuse of power" by the teacher and a "lack of appropriate response" by other adults who watched what happened and did nothing. But the Bennett family has been told they have no right to know any of the report's recommendations.

The student's mother, Lisa Bennett, has said that means neither the school nor the teacher can be held accountable.

On Thursday, Churchill said he has been told "the appropriate disciplinary action was taken," but human resources procedures protect the privacy of the teacher.

Amy Bennett was berated by her gym teacher for more than three minutes in the main hallway of Bayview Community School last June. (CBC)

"I understand it can be extremely frustrating for the parents, particularly in this case where there was something I would deem to be egregious happening," Churchill said following a cabinet meeting.

"This was wrong. This should not have happened, and it's an embarrassment to the system that it did."

Amy Bennett has an auditory processing disorder that makes her sensitive to certain loud noises, and the family has said the incident caused permanent damage in the form of tinnitus.

Her story came to light following a joint investigation between CBC News and CKBW Radio in Bridgewater, N.S.

The family had filed formal complaints against several staff members, and a May 14 letter from the South Shore Regional Centre for Education said the allegations were founded.

The letter said there were "a number of recommendations which are applicable to individuals and also to the system as a whole." It said all the recommendations were accepted, but would not be shared.

Amy Bennett wrote Education Minister Zach Churchill asking to meet with him. Churchill said although he is not meeting with the family, other staff will. (CBC)

Amy Bennett wrote a letter to Churchill a letter on June 1 asking to meet with him, but he has declined her request.

Churchill said because of the human resources process, meeting with the Bennett family could amount to "political interference."

"There is obviously a natural division and distinction between political governance of the education system and [human resources], for good reason," said Churchill. "We do have to trust the process."

But Nova Scotia NDP Leader Gary Burrill said such a meeting could be held without interfering with that process.

He said Churchill isn't upholding his promise of a direct line between the public and himself, following the elimination of elected school boards.

"These people quite reasonably want to speak to the elected person responsible about the depth of this experience. They want to share it eyeball-to-eyeball," said Burrill. 

"I would say this goes with the job.… If the minister of education won't respond and listen, who else do you have to go to?"

Lisa Bennett, left, and Amy Bennett want to see the recommendations that stemmed from the investigation into last June's incident. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

Kim Masland, the Nova Scotia PC education critic, said a compromise should be made that upholds confidentiality concerns, but also gives Amy Bennett an opportunity to sit down with Churchill.

"We're trying to get kids engaged in politics, engaged in their community, engaged in policies, and here's someone who has experienced an issue in her school and wants to have a conversation with the minister and that's being denied," said Masland.

"It's very disappointing."

Churchill said although he is not meeting with the family, other staff will on Friday.

"I understand that people want to see what happened. They want to see and know that justice occurred.... I can empathize with that very easily," he said.

"But we do have to follow the laws and procedures in this particular case. We can't deviate from them."

The Bennett family said they would comment following Friday's meeting.

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