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.
When the executive secretary receives a complaint relating to the alleged unprofessional conduct of a teacher who is an active member of the Alberta Teachers’ Association, within 30 days the complaint is referred to an investigating officer in order to commence an investigation. The role and powers of the investigating officer are outlined in section 26 of the Teaching Profession Act.
Occasionally, the investigating officer encounters resistance during the investigative process. Teachers and witnesses sometimes have questions about the role and “powers” of the investigator. Typically, these questions are easily navigated by the investigating officer and the investigation continues, smoothly, to fruition.
The act clearly outlines every member’s responsibilities as they pertain to an active investigation. Section 26(4) states, “If a member does not co-operate with an investigator, the investigator may make a complaint to the executive secretary, and the failure or refusal to co-operate may be found by a hearing committee to constitute unprofessional conduct.”
Recently a member was charged with two different offences. One of the charges had to do with the investigated member not co-operating with the investigating officer. The investigated member pled not guilty to the charges and, over the course of the hearing, mitigating circumstances were entered into evidence that had to be considered by the committee. The committee also heard from one witness who testified that the investigated member told them that they “had dropped the ball” with respect to participating in the investigation. After deliberating, the committee determined that the member had not co-operated with the investigating officer during the normal course of the investigation.
After rendering the guilty verdict, the committee wrote in its reasons for its decision, “It is the responsibility of a teacher under section 26(4) of the Teaching Profession Act to participate in the investigation process.” The hearing committee reinforced its decision with a penalty consisting of a letter of severe reprimand, a fine of $1,000 and the condition that failure to pay the fine by a set date would result in the suspension of the member’s membership in the Association until the fine was paid.
This decision and penalty are firm reminders to members that co-operation with the investigating officer during an investigation is an expectation of the profession. Any attempts to thwart the normal course of an investigation could result in a finding of unprofessional conduct. ❚