It is my pleasure to bring you this important column. Pitfalls and Precautions is an ongoing series that sheds some light on the results of the professional conduct process as it pertains to the actions of teachers and the decisions of the Professional Conduct Committee. This series has been around for a while, which means that it’s time for a short refresher on the professional conduct process.
Sections 16 to 60 of the Teaching Profession Act define professional discipline and grant the Association the authority to discipline its own members. Guided further by our own Code of Professional Conduct, the entire discipline process for active members of the Association rests with the ATA.
There are two fundamental paths of the discipline process, investigations and invitations/hearings.
Let’s start with investigations. Anyone — parent, superintendent, colleague, student — can request an investigation of an active member, and the Association is required to conduct a preliminary investigation into the alleged unprofessional conduct. The executive secretary will assign a staff officer to conduct the preliminary investigation. The investigating officer will interview the complainant, the investigated member and other witnesses that he/she deems to be pertinent to the case.
During the investigation, the investigated member is not entitled to receive advice or assistance from the Association, as it is the Association itself that conducts the investigation. Representation in the form of assistance from a staff officer may continue with respect to the member’s circumstances with their employer, their colleague or parents, but this process is kept completely separate from any investigation.
Once the investigation has concluded, the investigating officer will write a report and submit recommendations to the executive secretary, who acts upon the recommendations of the investigating officer and the matter proceeds in one of three ways:
a. There is insufficient evidence to warrant a hearing.
This decision is appealable by the complainant. The appeal must be initiated within 30 days of notification, and accompanied by a payment of $250 per case.
An invitation is ordered if the matter does not rise to the level of a formal sanction. The investigated member is required to meet with a senior member of the profession to discuss the behaviour in question. The discussion will include links to the Code of Professional Conduct. A successful invitation concludes with recognition by the investigated member of the unprofessional nature of their behaviour, and commitments regarding future behaviour.
c. Hearing of the Professional Conduct Committee (PCC)
A hearing of the PCC will determine the guilt or innocence of the investigated member with respect to the related charge(s). If the investigated member is found guilty, they are subject to penalty.
Penalties vary depending on the nature of the unprofessional conduct:
- Reprimand (oral, written, severe, very severe, extremely severe)
- Fines (up to $10,000 per charge)
- Suspension of membership in the ATA (defined period of time)
- Cancellation of membership in the ATA
When it comes to the suspension or cancellation of an ATA membership, it is important to note that the Association has jurisdiction only over membership. The ATA has no jurisdiction over a teacher’s certificate. In these cases, the penalty also includes a recommendation to the minister of education to take similar action with respect to the teacher’s certificate. In order for a suspended teacher to have their ATA membership reinstated, the individual has to appeal to Provincial Executive Council following the end date of their suspension. A member who has had their membership cancelled is not eligible to appeal to have their membership reinstated.
It should be noted that both Provincial Executive Council and the investigated member can appeal the decision of a PCC as it pertains to guilt/innocence as well as penalty.
This is a very brief snapshot of the discipline process. This process is a fundamental cornerstone of the Association’s mandate. Further information on the process can be found on the Association’s website by clicking My ATA>Conduct and Competence.
I look forward to bringing this column to you and sharing with you the highlights from the Professional Conduct Committee. ❚