Nova Scotia

Former N.S. teacher gets suspended sentence for assaulting student

A former Nova Scotia high school teacher has received a suspended sentence and 18 months probation for assaulting a student in a classroom at Cole Harbour District High School in October of last year.

As part of his sentence, Derek William Stephenson must pay former student $70 for earbuds he damaged

Derek William Stephenson is shown in Dartmouth provincial court on Nov. 20, 2019. (Craig Paisley/CBC)

A former Nova Scotia high school teacher has received a suspended sentence and 18 months probation for assaulting a student in a classroom at Cole Harbour District High School in October of last year.

Derek William Stephenson, 43, pleaded guilty to a single assault charge during a court appearance last month. Charges of mischief and breach of probation were dropped after the conviction was entered.

In an agreed statement of facts read into the record Monday in Dartmouth provincial court, the court was told that on Oct. 3, 2018, a Grade 10 student arrived in Stephenson's classroom wearing earbuds and listening to music on his phone.

According to the statement, Stephenson yanked the earbuds from the teen's ears and threw them to the back of the classroom, damaging them in the process.

Stephenson then taunted the student.

"What's the baby gonna do now?," he said.

"You gonna cry? Is the baby gonna cry?"

Video of incident shared widely on social media

The student told Stephenson to shut up and grabbed a lanyard hanging around the teacher's neck.

When the student went to retrieve his earbuds, Stephenson grabbed him from behind and pushed him into a wall. He then wrapped his arms around the student and took him down to the floor. Stephenson then tried to put the student in a headlock, but the youth managed to wriggle free.

The final seconds of the altercation were captured on video by another student and that video was widely circulated on social media.

The victim told Stephenson he was going to the principal's office. Stephenson reportedly responded "You should do that." A group of about eight students accompanied the victim to the principal where he reported it.

Sentence conditions

The sentence was a joint recommendation of the Crown and defence. While it does not include jail time, the probation order includes a provision that Stephenson not accept any paid or voluntary position that would put him in charge of youth. He has already surrendered his teaching licence.

Stephenson has two prior convictions, one for assaulting his now ex-wife and one for threats against his girlfriend. He was on probation for the latter offence when he attacked the student.

The court was told he was going through a rough patch at the time of the attack, having been told just the day before that his ex-wife was seeking sole custody of their children.

The teen victim was not in court for the sentencing, but his mother and other family members were on hand. The victim and his mother each filed victim impact statements. In his, the teen noted he has lost trust in teachers, has flashbacks and migraines. He's seeing a therapist and is in constant fear.

Stephenson apologizes

Stephenson spoke directly to the boy's family, apologizing for his actions.

"I'm very sorry for what I did," he said.

In sentencing Stephenson, Chief Judge Pamela Williams said she was satisfied with the joint recommendation.

"Your actions in no way were justified," the judge said to Stephenson.

But on the issue of denunciation and deterrence, she noted Stephenson has been under intense scrutiny.

"This has been a very public event," she said.

As a condition of his probation, Stephenson must compensate the youth for his damaged earbuds: a total of $70.

Internal review

Stephenson stopped working for the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) in January. When he was originally charged, HRCE was conducting a review of the matter, the outcome of which still isn't clear.

Following his two previous convictions for intimate partner violence, some teachers filed letters of support for Stephenson, which allowed him to continue his teaching career.

In an email, HRCE spokesperson Doug Hadley said it wouldn't comment on Stephenson's departure because it's a personnel matter.

"The HRCE takes any matter potentially impacting the safety and security of our students very seriously," he wrote.

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About the Author

Blair Rhodes

Reporter

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 35 years, the last 27 with CBC. His primary focus is on stories of crime and public safety. He can be reached at blair.rhodes@cbc.ca