Pitfalls and Precautions: Teachers—Think before sending email

October 10, 2017
Gaylene Schreiber, Secretary to ATA Professional Conduct Committee

Pitfalls and Precautions is a series that aims to educate teachers on professional conduct issues by highlighting situations addressed by the ATA Professional Conduct Committee. The purpose of the series is purely educational, so some non-essential information from the actual case may be omitted or changed.

A teacher, unhappy with decisions regarding programming and staffing at his school, decided to respond to schoolwide email communications on the topic with a few thoughts of his own. In his emails, the teacher made highly critical comments about the decisions and the capacity of the central office staff making the decisions. The teacher vented his frustrations in several emails over a period of a few months, and he sent these emails to the entire staff of his school as well as others. As a result, the teacher was found guilty of violating both article 13 and article 14 of the Code of Professional Conduct:

(13) The teacher criticizes the professional competence or professional reputation of another teacher only in confidence to proper officials and after the other teacher has been informed of the criticism, subject only to section 24 of the Teaching Profession Act.

(14) The teacher, when making a report on the professional performance of another teacher, does so in good faith and, prior to submitting the report, provides the teacher with a copy of the report, subject only to section 24 of the Teaching Profession Act.

In his multiple, widely broadcast emails, which reached more than 70 recipients, the teacher included disparaging language that impugned two central office staff members’ competence, intelligence, care and concern for students’ learning and safety, and overall decision-making skills. Over the course of the emails, the tone and language shifted until it was acrimonious, aggressive and threatening.

The hearing committee found the teacher guilty on four counts of unprofessional conduct, and ordered a penalty of two severe letters of reprimand to address the charges, plus a fine of $2,500 to be paid within 90 days of receipt of the decision. Failure to pay the fine would result in the suspension of the teacher’s membership in the Association and the corresponding inability to work as a teacher in any public, separate or francophone school in Alberta until reinstated.

In contemplating the penalty, the committee determined that the penalty should be a significant one to reflect the egregiously unprofessional behaviour and to deter the member from repeating his behaviour. The profession will not tolerate unrestrained and blanketed criticism to persons who are not proper officials.

Read more Pitfalls and Precautions articles here.