Friday, February 24, 2012

Voter Forum question: Are we over regulated?

In the Voter Forum, Tim wrote:
Presently, if a teacher suspected of some sort of delinquent behaviour, there are three bodies that conduct an investigation.  There, of course, is the criminal code of Canada.  This is something that every person in Canada is accountable to.  There is the College of Teachers, who do this for every teacher in Ontario.  Being province wide, they have the advantage of being consistent.  Then there is each individual school board, which will conduct it's own investigation.
My question is this:  If the College is doing the job consistently across the province, is there really a need for each school board to conduct an investigation as well.  That's three organizations all investigating the same teacher for the same charge.  At a time when we need alternatives to the Drummond recommendations for saving money, could we not trust the college to assume the invetigatory powers that the boards have as well. Duplication of services is expensive.
Here's my response:

I think (hope) that a College of Teachers investigation occurs near the end of the process, rather than right at the beginning, since most incidents shouldn't need to go to the College level.  Depending on the charge, there may be police and/or Family and Children's Services investigations, as well as the school board's internal system to work through before things get to the College.

The police side is one of the most traumatic (you may be arrested and spend a couple nights in jail), yet it's the most accountable.  FACS investigations, on the other hand, have no accountability.  The police may clear you of any wrongdoing, yet FACS will still declare you unfit for the classroom.  Then of course there's the school board... again, no accountability; you may be cleared by everyone else but still have to fight for your reinstatement.  It's even worse if you're an occasional teacher, because your income halts if you're suspended.

Accountability throughout the process is pretty much non-existent, and the "investigations" which are done are usually not done to any professional standard (calling them a sham may be too strong, but not too far off).  Further, the accused teacher has little if any recourse to challenge or cross-examine these so-called investigations and their findings.

Could the College replace the school boards' investigations?  Maybe, if they were given access, which is unlikely (it would also involve the school boards giving up power, which is also unlikely).  Perhaps a good solution would be to have each school board designate someone as an investigator, and have them go through meaningful training in how to do a competent investigation.  Union representation should also be mandatory at all stages of the investigation as well.

The court system operates under pretty explicit rules, with high standards for evidence, and high standards of proof for determining guilt.  Unfortunately, if you're a teacher accused of wrong-doing, unless you're charged criminally, you will not be dealing with the court system.

Instead, you will be thrown into a murky world where investigations are haphazard at best, where you have no right to cross-examine your accuser or the investigators, and where you have few if any of the rights you'd assume you have.  Instead of clear rules of procedure, the process will likely operate according to "natural justice".  Instead of having to be proven guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt, your guilt will be determined by the far less stringent guideline of whether you appear to be guilty on the balance of probabilities.  You will not have been investigated by a professional investigator, you are unlikely to have had representation at many stages of the process, and the proceedings won't be conducted by someone who does law as their profession.  If you feel that you've been thrown into a meatgrinder with no chance of escaping unscathed, you're probably right.  If you are accused of misconduct, the sad truth is that you are likely to find yourself facing a Kangaroo Court.

We have to keep in mind that when the College is deliberating misconduct, they literally hold a teacher's livelihood in their hands.  I don't advocate protecting people that shouldn't be in the classroom.  What I advocate is being absolutely certain someone shouldn't be in the classroom before we put an end to their career.  Teachers, like anyone else, are innocent until proven guilty.  We must respect and protect the rights of the accused every bit as much as we take allegations seriously.

An alarming number of allegations are false, so it behooves the College to examine each case with care.  The College must hold its proceedings (and those of the bodies that inform it) to a very high standard.  The public interest is not served if good teachers are unjustly removed from the profession.

The College has commissioned former Ontario chief justice Patrick LeSage to review its disciplinary procedures and to make recommendations; the review is due May 31st, 2012.  Implementing those recommendations will likely be a major project of the next College Council.

Mark Carter, OCT
Southcentral Region Part-time/Full-time Candidate

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