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All students deserve to be safe and secure while at school

Michael ZwaagstraThe Manitoba government intends to improve how it handles teacher misconduct. In a recent news release, Education Minister Wayne Ewasko said his department is consulting with key stakeholders about this issue.

It’s about time the province tackles this problem. The latest report from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection (CCCP) raises serious concerns about teacher misconduct not only in Manitoba but across the country. Over the last four years, 252 current or former school personnel committed, or were accused of committing, offences of a sexual nature involving children.

Even more problematic, the number of offenders is likely much higher since many provinces do not require public disclosure of discipline decisions. This means that the public only hears about teacher misconduct if a case goes to court.

When highlighting significant jurisdictions of concern, the CCCP report singles out Manitoba. Not only does Manitoba not proactively disclose professional disciplinary records, but the Manitoba Teachers’ Society acts both as a union and as a professional association charged with investigating and disciplining teachers. These roles appear to be in conflict.

The CCCP report contains several important recommendations. Perhaps the most obvious is that all provinces and territories, including Manitoba, should establish fully independent bodies that investigate complaints about teachers’ conduct and determine appropriate sanctions for those found guilty.

However, teachers’ unions must be kept at arm’s length from the disciplinary process. This way, they are free to advocate for the interests of their members, but they can’t determine the outcome of the investigation.

In addition, the CCCP strongly recommends that disciplinary decisions be made available to the public in all provinces. This means creating online registries that are easily searchable by name and offence. Anyone who wants to know whether a particular teacher has been found guilty of professional misconduct would be able to find that out without too much difficulty.

As for the argument that such a registry would violate privacy, the reality is that teachers must be held to a high professional standard. Teachers who do not want their names appearing in a disciplinary decision should avoid engaging in unprofessional behaviour. There is no excuse for taking advantage of vulnerable students.

Keep in mind that other professions regularly publish the names of people found guilty of professional misconduct. For example, the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Manitoba publishes disciplinary decisions involving its members, as does the Law Society of Manitoba. Being held accountable is a reasonable part of working in a profession. Significant responsibility leads to the need for significant accountability.

The good news is that Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and New Brunswick already make teacher discipline cases public. In fact, two of these provinces, Alberta and New Brunswick, moved in this direction within the last couple of years. This indicates that provincial governments are being pressured to address this problem.

Because of the steps taken by other provinces, there is no need for the Manitoba government to reinvent the wheel. As such, Minister Ewasko probably intends to speak with his provincial counterparts as part of his consultation process.

Holding misbehaving teachers accountable is essential to maintaining public confidence in the teaching profession and the educational system. All students deserve to be safe and secure while at school.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and a senior fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

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