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.
An elementary school teacher was approached by a student’s parent for a letter of support to be used in a family court matter. The teacher provided a letter, but he did not confine his observations to matters of teaching and learning. Instead, the teacher offered significant criticisms of the other parent that were personal and highly derogatory. The criticisms were not based on anything observed by the teacher but instead were informed by comments made by the parent who requested the letter. The teacher made no effort to verify the information received by this parent.
The teacher was found guilty of multiple charges, including failing to uphold the honour and dignity of the profession by using information received without ensuring its accuracy and by deliberately making false statements as professional judgments. The Professional Conduct Committee found the teacher guilty on all charges and ordered a letter of reprimand and a fine of $500.
The committee noted that a teacher should only offer a professional opinion based on verifiable information that is within the knowledge and scope of his or her work. The committee also noted that the teacher failed to uphold the behaviour expected of teachers working with parents because of statements the teacher made that were rancorous and demeaning in nature. The committee observed that the gravity of the offence warranted a substantial penalty and contemplated a more significant penalty, but considered that the teacher had already faced significant sanctions at the employment level.
Teachers are advised to consult with an Association staff officer in Member Services prior to acting if they are asked to provide documentation beyond their usual reporting responsibilities. ❚
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