Investigation After Touching Student
A teacher phones a counsellor at the OECTA Provincial Office because his principal has summoned him to a meeting, which will include a police officer and a Children’s Aid Society (CAS) caseworker. Three weeks before, during a guest’s presentation to his class, the teacher had noticed a pupil not paying attention, and had placed his hand on the student’s head, gently turning his attention to the presenter. The teacher has also been informed by the principal that the student’s parents plan to write to the College of Teachers complaining of his behaviour. In addition, the teacher tells the counsellor that there is already a letter in his file from the superintendent admonishing him for failing to observe the board policy of never touching children.
The teacher is advised to attend the meeting with a witness, for example his local OECTA unit president. If he can categorically deny the accusation, he should do so.
He should tell police and the CAS he will co-operate in their investigations, after he has received advice from OECTA’s legal counsel. The lawyer will help him prepare his statement about what occurred, which the teacher can later give to investigators.
The counsellor tells the teacher not to discuss the situation with his principal. Principals and vice-principals are no longer members of OECTA. They are management and represent the board; anything the teacher says to a principal could later be used against him.
The disciplinary letter could, for example, be used in an investigation by the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT). Depending on the circumstances, it may be possible to have the letter removed from the teacher’s file at a later date.
The counsellor also offers to help the member prepare his response in any OCT investigation which may occur.
Although teachers may use physical force as a means of correction (see section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada), this does not save them from investigation under Ontario’s Child and Family Services Act.
Under that Act, the criteria used to determine child abuse are very broad. The CAS investigation may determine that the physical contact was inappropriate or unduly harsh. The police could either issue a warning or charge the teacher with physical assault. The potential fallout from the OCT investigation could be a cautionary letter or a discipline hearing with subsequent penalty.
There are no guarantees that the situation will be resolved positively for the teacher. It is essential that the member seek advice and assistance from the Association rather than dismiss the incident as trivial.
Most school boards have protocols covering the involvement of CAS and police; teachers should familiarize themselves with them.
While members have the statutory obligation to use the necessary and appropriate physical force when a pupil’s health or safety are threatened, they should always be conscious of the potential consequences of even the most innocent physical contact with a pupil.