Pitfalls and Precautions: Teachers acting as concerned parents must adhere to conduct code

October 11, 2016 Gaylene Schreiber, Secretary, Professional Conduct Committee

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 during the 2015/16 school year.

Some teachers have children of their own and in the course of their parenting, they may find themselves uncomfortable with decisions made by the professional staff at their child’s school. However, teachers must take special care to attend to their obligations regarding criticism of colleagues by considering items 13 and 14 of the Code of Professional Conduct. Teachers are bound by the code even when they are acting in their role as a parent or community member.

In this example, a teacher had a son in a school within the jurisdiction in which the teacher taught. The teacher joined an unofficial group of parents who had concerns about the school administration and became embroiled in the activism to the extent that she became recognized by others as an informal leader. On behalf of the group, the teacher co-wrote letters addressed to external stakeholders and public figures, letters that criticized administrative practices at the school. The teacher also participated vociferously at several public meetings where she challenged and criticized the school administration’s professional practice. One school administrator recorded the public meetings and the teacher’s comments.

At no time did the teacher provide the school administration with advance notice of her criticism, nor did she provide a copy of the critical letter to the administrators. The teacher did not provide her criticism to “proper officials” as reflected in the Code of Professional Conduct. The teacher received a penalty of two letters of reprimand to encompass three charges against her.

When deciding on a penalty, the Professional Conduct Committee considered mitigating factors. The committee noted that the conduct at issue was ­serious, expansive and repeated. Teachers are expected to criticize colleagues only in good faith, to the individual first, and in a respectful manner. Teachers are obligated to conduct themselves within the expectations of the profession, even when acting in their role as concerned parents. ❚

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