The Ontario College of Teachers (“College”) recently announced that it has hired retired Justice Patrick LeSage to undertake a comprehensive review of its disciplinary process, to be completed by May 2012.
Education Minister Laurel Broten has also introduced reforms, including an examination of the College’s current dispute resolution policies and processes, which allow teachers to negotiate a plea along with the terms of their penalty. In the interim, effective January 4, 2012, sexual offences will be specifically ineligible for dispute resolution, and the College must publish all of its disciplinary decisions on its website.
A review of two 2011 decisions of the College’s Discipline Committee, may suggest some of the impetus behind these developments.
The Case of Massimilano Silvio Tallarico
The decision in this case was based on a ‘Statement of Uncontested Facts, Pleas of No Contest, and Joint Submission on Penalty’. The member agreed to admit the allegation of professional misconduct based on failing to maintain the standards of the profession, and committing acts which would reasonably be regarded as disgraceful, dishonourable and unprofessional. In exchange for this admission, all allegations of abuse of students, and in particular sexual abuse, were withdrawn by the College.
The Discipline Committee accepted both the reduced list of allegations and the statement of uncontested facts, which included an acknowledgement that the member “engaged in an inappropriate relationship with the student”. They also adopted the joint submission on penalty, and so imposed the following sanctions:
- a reprimand by the College; and
- completion of an approved course on appropriate boundaries and boundary violation issues, taught by a provider who had reviewed the Decision of the Committee and joint submissions of the parties.
The College was not prepared to agree that the teacher’s name should be withheld in the College’s quarterly publication of Professionally Speaking, arguing that a public record served as a deterrent. However, the Committee disagreed and would not publish the member’s name, stating that the member had been sufficiently ‘reprimanded’ and upon completion of the course on boundaries, would be ‘rehabilitated’. The Committee’s Order and findings could be published in summary form only, with no mention of the member’s name. In its reasons, the Discipline Committee described their decision as providing a “general and specific deterrent”, and the “transparency and openness required by the public”.
The Case of Richard Donald Lorne Burdett
Mr. Burdett, like his colleague Mr. Tallarico, submitted a Statement of Uncontested Facts, Plea of No Contest and Joint Submission on Penalty.
In admitting to the allegation of Professional Misconduct, Mr. Burdett acknowledged being guilty of sexual abuse of a student or students as defined by Sections 1 and 40(1.1) of the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996.
The joint submission on penalty was adopted in its entirety by the Committee. It included:
- a reprimand by the College;
- suspension of his Certificate for 12 months, commencing February 3, 2011. However, the suspension would be lifted for the latter 6 months, that is, by August 31, 2011, if by that date,
- Mr. Burdett completed a pre-approved course on appropriate boundaries and boundary violation issues, taught by a provider who had reviewed the Decision of the Committee and joint submissions of the parties; and
- Successfully underwent treatment with a registered psychological therapist who had also reviewed the Committee’s decision and joint submissions of the parties, and certified that they had examined him and he posed no “undue risk to students”.
- Mr. Burdett would fulfill the above requirements before returning to work as a teacher; and
- Mr. Burdett would take all reasonable steps to ensure that he received a performance appraisal within two years of returning to work, reporting the results to the Registrar of the College.
The Committee supported the College’s submission that the member’s name be published in Professionally Speaking. It held that this, along with the other “severe penalties” it had imposed, would demonstrate that the Committee “treats matters of this nature very seriously”.
Minister Broten has stated that her Ministry will be paying particular attention to Justice LeSage’s recommendations with regards to the establishment of possible mandatory penalties for specific types of misconduct, such as sexual offences, and the circumstances under which a member’s name may be withheld.
Although we will never know, because the details of the alleged misconduct have not been released, it would be an interesting exercise to compare the outcomes in these two cases with the outcomes of cases after reforms are made. As revised policies and processes are unveiled, we will watch for features that support greater transparency, and we will assess whether there may be a shift away from the historical focus on rehabilitation of members, as demonstrated in the cases reviewed here, to discipline.