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.
24-7-365. At some point during their bachelor of education programs, I’m sure every Alberta teacher was told that certificated teachers are expected to conduct themselves in a professional manner that is consistent with the Code of Professional Conduct and Teaching Profession Act (TPA) even after the dismissal bell has sounded at the end of the school day. That means teachers remain professionally accountable for their behaviour during their personal time – on evenings, weekends and vacations.
Every year, the Association is asked to investigate a few members for potentially unprofessional after-hours conduct that is unrelated to their work as teachers or school leaders. Recently, the Professional Conduct Committee heard the case of a teacher whose volunteer activities resulted in both criminal and professional conduct charges and convictions.
The investigated member volunteered with a community not-for-profit organization and, eventually, was elected to serve as the organization’s treasurer. In this role, over a two-year period, the member issued more than three dozen fraudulent payments to themselves from the organization’s accounts. They made these payments through a combination of PayPal transfers and organization cheques (on which they forged the signature of another signing officer).
The member’s illicit activities were uncovered during an audit of the organization’s casino account conducted by the Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis Commission. This audit prompted a police investigation. Ultimately, the member was found to have defrauded the organization of more than $75,000. They were convicted of an indictable offence, ordered to pay restitution payments and sentenced to six months in prison.
The member was investigated, charged and convicted criminally for their off-work activities, but they were still accountable professionally for their conduct.
Section 23(2) of the TPA explains that any member who is convicted of an indictable offence (a major crime including theft over $5,000, assault, break and enter, and homicide) is automatically guilty of unprofessional conduct. When the hearing committee convened to hear the member’s case, they imposed a penalty that included ineligibility in the Association for a period of two years, and a recommendation to the minister to suspend the member’s teaching certificate for two years.
As many of you know, only once in the Association’s history has a suspended membership been restored. In effect, members who are suspended from the Association never teach in Alberta again.
This member’s case provides a cautionary tale for two groups of individuals:
- All members need to be aware that they must conduct themselves professionally 24-7-365. The same conduct can lead to multiple investigations (and penalties) by employers, the profession and the justice system.
- Any members who are signing officers in an ATA subgroup or a community organization must ensure that their treasurer is providing them with regular detailed financial reports about money collected and dispersed. If the treasurer’s report is them saying, “Everything is fine!” this is a huge red flag. ❚