Question: I read a few weeks ago about the Alberta Teachers’ Association taking 35 years to remove a teacher for unprofessional conduct. Why did it take so long to deal with a serious problem, and who is responsible?
Answer: Recently, an Association Professional Conduct Committee concluded hearings concerning an individual teacher’s professional conduct. Consistent with the normal practice of these committees, the decision and the penalty were announced in open sessions which, in this instance, were attended by members of the media and widely reported. The committee has not yet handed down its final report. After it has done so, there will be a period when the teacher involved and/or Provincial Executive Council can appeal the decision and/or the penalty.
The Association’s involvement in this case was triggered by the receipt of a complaint from a school principal in December 2016. An investigation was initiated immediately but took almost 10 months to complete. It revealed additional evidence of potentially unprofessional conduct extending back several decades. Based upon the content of the investigation, the executive secretary of the day ordered a hearing. That hearing, involving many days of testimony from almost 60 witnesses and extensive argumentation, was completed over the course of a year. This is the most complex and most resource-intensive discipline investigation and hearing in the history of the Association.
This case demonstrates once again the Association’s determination to uphold high standards of professional conduct. Having been made aware of the problem, the Association acted immediately and in accordance with its responsibilities under the Teaching Profession Act. The Association did its job, and did it very well.
But there is no getting away from the reality that the conduct of a member appears to have concerned many individuals but went unreported for far too long. Part of the responsibility for this must rest with the teacher’s employer, who had a responsibility to supervise and, as necessary, evaluate and respond when concerns arose. But teachers who might have been aware of their colleague’s problematic and ultimately unprofessional conduct, and yet chose to remain silent, must also do some soul searching.
Section 24(3) of the Teaching Profession Act (TPA) requires teachers to report forthwith to the executive secretary the unprofessional conduct of a member. While the Code of Professional Conduct normally requires teachers to inform their colleague before reporting concerns relating to professional performance to an appropriate authority, this provision does not apply to reports of unprofessional conduct made in accordance with this section of the act.
It is never easy to take a stand against a colleague, and it is human nature to want to wish unpleasant problems away. But teachers have been entrusted with the care of students, and along with that trust comes great responsibility. Each one of us, and all of us collectively, are professionally obligated to protect students and uphold the public interest in education. Reporting unprofessional conduct is not a matter of choice.
Making a report of unprofessional conduct in good faith will initiate an investigation process that is designed to be comprehensive, efficient and fair. At its conclusion, the investigation may indicate that a hearing shall be convened, or that a less formal “invitation” be undertaken, or that no further action be taken. Making the initial report serves the interest of students, the school community, the profession and even the individual accused, whose conduct may be subject to correction before it harms others or places their ability to practise at risk. ❚
Questions for consideration in this column are welcome. Please address them to Dennis Theobald at firstname.lastname@example.org.