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How school boards protect nightmare teachers more than students

Everyone can remember that one incredibly strict teacher they had in elementary school (you know who you are, Mrs. B!). But when you find out your child’s teacher is more than just strict — abusive and potentially causing your child lasting psychological damage — you’d expect the school would be on your side and deal with the situation in a hurry, right?

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Wrong. For some Canadian parents, this couldn’t be further from the truth. A new CBC Marketplace investigation shows how just how inefficient and secretive many Canadian schools’ disciplinary processes can be. Marketplace found that investigations into complaints about teachers often take months and rarely result in the teachers losing their teaching licenses. For most provinces, disciplinary hearings are handled internally, behind closed doors, and parents have a tough time accessing information about a teacher’s disciplinary record. In other words, teachers with multiple complaints launched against them could be teaching your kids, and you wouldn’t even know.

And given that Canadian school boards often fail to properly discipline teachers engaged in serious misconduct, getting rid of teachers because they’re incompetent happens even more rarely. Barrie Bennett, a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, tells Maclean’s that when it comes to firing teachers who are bad at their jobs, “Most principals find it’s not worth the effort.”

Why? Apparently the process of actually firing a teacher requires jumping through so many bureaucratic hoops and risking conflicts with local teachers’ unions that principals often just don’t bother firing bad teachers.

Some of the stories Marketplace heard from students and parents during their monthslong investigation were pretty alarming. One student, Carmen North, shared her shocking experiences with former-teacher Gavin Bradford. This so-called “cool teacher” actually had a food fetish and would chat with North and 20 other preteen and teen girls on social media, asking the girls to video chat with him or record videos as they smeared themselves with food such as ketchup or eggs, poured milk or water on themselves, put pie down their pants, and more.

“I was not aware of how that was a sexual thing or a fetish at the time,” North tells CBC. “In Grade 7, you’re still a child, and you’re still kind of unaware.”

Although you’d expect a teacher like this to have his license revoked pretty quickly, that’s not what happened. The Ontario College of Teachers took almost five years to complete their investigation into Bradford and take away his license. In the meantime, this man who’d been having inappropriate, sexually charged conversations with underage girls was able to teach for two years at a college in Scotland.

Want to make a complaint about a teacher? Good luck. According to Paul Bennett, who specializes in the research area of teacher discipline at Nova Scotia’s Saint Mary’s University, “You’re likely to be tied up in knots.” Bennett tells CBC that schools are fiercely secretive about any complaints parents have. “You’re told that it’s under protection of privacy and there’s no public disclosure allowed and that you’re violating the rights of the teachers.”

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“Right now, teachers are better protected than students,” one frustrated New Brunswick parent, Gina Merrill, tells CBC. Merrill started to worry about her daughter when she was showing uncharacteristic symptoms of stress: “She would have headaches constantly; bad, bad headaches, stomach aches. Her stomach would be in pain, and she would feel nauseous. And [she] didn’t want to get out of bed, which was unusual for her.”

It turns out, her daughter’s teacher was yelling at children, beating their hands with rulers, violently hitting desks with her cane to intimidate students and refusing to let students go to the bathroom. But when Merrill launched her complaint, she simply got a vague, bureaucratic note saying it had been filed “under Category 2 Misconduct” and that “appropriate action” had been taken. They didn’t give her any indication of what that action might have been.

Instead of firing teachers, administrators often admit to doing something called “passing the trash,” where they politely push bad teachers out the door with a “voluntary transfer to another school.” But Canadian children deserve more than trash teachers. And given that there are plenty of young teachers dying for a position at a Canadian school — two-thirds of new teachers can’t find full time work, according to astudy from the Ontario College of Teachers — it’s time Canadian principals fired some of these bad teachers and gave some new ones a chance.

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