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 committee dealt with the following case between January and April of 2016.
The Teaching Profession Act allows the Professional Conduct Committee broad latitude in ordering a penalty for unprofessional conduct, including the issuance of a declaration of ineligibility of membership in the Association (which results in a teacher being unable to be employed in public, separate or Francophone schools in Alberta), a recommendation to the minister of education to cancel the member’s teaching certificate, and fines of up to $10,000 per charge. The committee ordered this exact penalty, to the fullest extent of its powers, after reviewing the facts surrounding a sexual relationship between a teacher and a junior high-aged student.
The facts of the case revealed that the teacher had carefully developed and then exploited a trusting relationship with a vulnerable student who did not have many positive adult relationships. This relationship led to increasing intimacy and ultimately to sexual involvement.
The hearing committee noted the profession will not tolerate a teacher who exploits or grooms a relationship with a student for sexual gratification. The penalty is designed to protect the public interest, the profession and students from predatory behaviour. Teachers are in a position of power over students and, therefore, it is a teacher’s fiduciary obligation to protect students, not exploit them. This teacher’s actions constituted egregious unprofessional conduct that breached the trust held by the teacher and that necessitated the most significant penalty.
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