The Ontario College of Teachers says it will act swiftly on retired Superior Court Justice Patrick LeSage’s 49 recommended changes to its teacher discipline procedures including heeding LeSage’s call that the college build more transparency into process for disciplining teachers.

The Ontario College of Teachers regulates teachers in that province. As reported in the May 31, 2012 Toronto Star, the college commissioned LeSage to review its disciplinary practices after a series of Toronto Star articles revealed secrecy around disciplinary decisions and poor disciplinary practices.

Among the Star’s findings: teacher Jacques Tremblay, the chair of the college’s disciplinary panel was the author of soft porn for teens. His book, the Sexteens and the Fake Goddess, allegedly featured questionable administrator-teacher-student conduct. Tremblay quit as chairman.

The college asked LeSage to examine and consider its communication and publication practices, impartiality and timeliness of adjudication, training and legal support, appropriateness of disciplinary outcomes, confidentiality and the handling of concerns about teachers.

LeSage, who noted that the privilege of serving as a self-regulating profession comes with enormous responsibility, called for enhanced reporting and information-sharing on the part of the Ontario College of Teachers, government and school boards.

Based on his nine-month review, LeSage recommended:

  • creating a mechanism that would allow the fast-tracking of cases where the teacher has been convicted of a criminal offence
  • tighter timelines for reporting teacher misconduct or incompetence from school boards to the college, from the college to teachers and from the college to the public
  • disclosure of the names of teachers found guilty of misconduct
  • posting information about teachers facing misconduct charges on the college’s Find a Teacher public register website
  • adding more non-teachers to the roster of panel members who hear misconduct cases
  • requiring that written decisions be provided to the parties and the public within 60 days of the conclusion of a hearing to ensure that those involved in the process (including the public) are apprised of a decision in a timely fashion.

The college took steps to become more transparent, even before the LeSage report was issued, posting 600 disciplinary decisions on its website this January. These decisions had previously only been available in the college library or through Quicklaw (a private legal database).

“Nothing is more important or sacrosanct than the safety and well being of students,” said Liz Papadopoulos, an elementary school teacher who chairs the college council (which governs the college and develops and approves council policies). “It is our duty to protect the public interest. Earning the public’s trust is our job. Our council has already begun its careful consideration of the report to determine a plan and timeline to tackle the recommendations, including those that involve changes to legislation and require action from the province.”

LeSage’s recommendations will require sweeping change to Ontario legislation.

Key observations in the LeSage report

Transparency essential given college’s duty to protect the public trust in public education

LeSage stressed the important role the Ontario College of Teachers plays in serving and protecting the public interest. He points out that the central reason for finding a teacher guilty of professional misconduct is to make sure public is protected from acts of professional misconduct.

The British Columbia Court of Appeal has also spoken to this issue:

In cases of professional discipline there is an aspect of punishment to any penalty which may be imposed and in some ways the proceedings resemble sentencing in a criminal case. However, where the legislature has entrusted the disciplinary process to a self-governing professional body, the legislative purpose is regulation of the profession in the public interest. The emphasis must clearly be upon the protection of the public interest, and to that end, an assessment of the degree of risk, if any, in permitting a practitioner to hold himself out as legally authorized to practice his profession. The steps necessary to protect the public, and the risk that any individual may represent if permitted to practice, are matters that the professional’s peers are better able to assess than a person untrained in the particular professional art or science.

LeSage notes that revoking a teacher’s membership in the college and his/her licence to teacher is invariably the only suitable response in the face of the most heinous of crimes: a teacher sexually abuses a student or is involved in a sexual relationship with a student. If the college were to mete out a lesser punishment, it would cast disrepute on the college and the teaching profession.

Teachers not aware of Ontario College of Teachers and its role

LeSage expressed surprise about how little the public – and teachers – know about the college (page 24). He recommends the college explain its role to teachers and the community – including explaining the college’s mandate and distinguishing between the college’s responsibilities and school boards’ responsibilities:

Both the College and the School Boards must be clear in their dialogue with the public as to the role each plays in overseeing teachers’ professional responsibilities. There needs to be a delineation of matters that should be reported to the College, matters that should be reported to the Board and matters that may properly be reported to either.

Communication will assist with the goal of transparency.

Teacher discipline hearings should be public

LeSage called for transparency in teacher discipline hearings (page 48), noting that Canadian courts – which deal with very sensitive issues every day – rarely hold closed sessions. The principles of transparency and openness which guide Canadian courts, should apply to hearings, said LeSage. Publication bans could be available for witnesses or persons allegedly subjected to sexual misconduct relative to the proceedings and that any witness under the age of 18 and any person allegedly subjected to sexual misconduct relevant to the proceedings of the right to apply for such a ban (pages 50 and 51).

Discipline committee decisions should be published

LeSage recommended current Ontario law allowing the college discipline committee to restrict publication of its decisions be rescinded. And that discipline committee decisions including the teacher’s name be published and posted on the college website.