Ottawa

Students plan walkout to support victims of sexual abuse at Perth school

Students in Perth, Ont., are walking out of class Tuesday in support of former students who were victims of former St. John Catholic High School teacher Jeff Peters.

Administrators coached teachers on how to answer questions about farewell 'party' for convicted teacher

Jeff Peters was convicted of sexual assault and sexual exploitation of two former students on April 27. (Desmond Devoy/Metroland)

Students in Perth, Ont., are walking out of class Tuesday in support of former students who were victims of former St. John Catholic High School teacher Jeff Peters.

Peters, who taught history and coached at the high school southwest of Ottawa, was recently convicted of sex crimes against two women when they were his students between 2013 and 2016. 

The protest organizer is calling on fellow students to log out of online classes on Tuesday and refuse to take part in any school meetings.

"I ask all students to participate in this walk out," wrote Lily Trudel in a Facebook post on Monday. "By walking out you are showing support for the victims of Jeff Peters."

Jeff Peters was initially charged in the fall of 2019.

Peters pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and sexual exploitation of two former students, and was sentenced to three and a half years in prison on April 29, according to Crown attorney Robert Corbella. 

Anger over gathering

Students and their parents are also angry that just days before Peters's sentencing, a small group of friends held a gathering for him.

Two attendees, both of whom asked not to be named, told CBC six people including two teachers were at the outdoor gathering, which lasted about an hour. The men said Peters offered them an apology, but no details about the crimes he'd committed.

Both men said they were shocked when, days later, they read about what really happened between Peters and the students in the local media. 

"We stand with the victims," said one of the men. "Our 35-year friendship with him has ended. We're disgusted now that we've heard about what he did to these women."

The unnamed attendees said they now regret attending the small gathering, which has now been characterized on social media as a going away party to celebrate Peters. 

"My reason to go there was for closure," said one former friend. "I intend to have no future relationship with Peters."

Teachers told on how to respond

On Monday, administrators at St. John sent an email to teachers, coaching them on how to react if asked about the gathering. A copy of the email from the school's vice principal was sent to CBC.

"Your response can be: 'I do not have any knowledge or information of a party taking place. If it did, it is not affiliated or connected with the school and we need to get back to the curriculum," read the email.

"If a student continues to ask/comment/interrupt after you have warned them that this is not being discussed, please let them know that if this continues that they will be removed from ... class." 

In the same email, the teachers are told how to react if a parent enters the virtual classroom. 

"Your response will be: I am sorry but I am here to teach this class. I will have to disconnect you at this time. Please reach out to administration with your concerns. (Then disconnect the parent immediately)."

 

The school board didn't respond to CBC's request for an interview or questions.

In a statement, the board said it "acted promptly when news that a former employee, Mr. Jeffrey Peters, breached the Board's well-established and strict guidelines on the proper conduct between teacher and student."

It also noted that the board fully co-operated with the police investigation and the teacher has now been fired.

"Given that the Board has referred this matter to the Ontario College of Teachers for review, it would be inappropriate to make any further comments at this time," said the board. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Julie Ireton

Senior Reporter

Julie Ireton is a senior reporter who works on investigations and enterprise news features at CBC Ottawa. She's also the host of the CBC investigative podcast, The Band Played On found at: cbc.ca/thebandplayedon You can reach her at julie.ireton@cbc.ca

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