The problem of lengthy delays in the handling of some disciplinary actions against teachers in B.C. is a work in progress for the Teachers Regulation Branch.
An educator at Wellington Secondary School in Nanaimo began a 30-day suspension this week for having inappropriate contact with students.
The suspension was the result of a TRB decision that came five years after the allegations were first reported to what was then the B.C. College of Teachers.
In an August consent resolution agreement between Matthew Lettington and the TRB, the teacher admitted to having a camping trip with five female students in July, 2007 before they began Grade 12.
The Wellington Secondary teacher did not obtain the approval of parents or his employer for the trip. He did not notify the district that he had been directed by one of the girls' parents to not have contact with her.
He also admitted to several breaches including having students over to his home for movie nights, meeting them at restaurants and making inappropriate comments on social media.
The Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district disciplined Lettington in March 2009, when he was given a 20-day suspension and ordered to participate in a professional boundaries workshop.
The district's internal disciplinary matters take place confidentially, but may be forwarded to the TRB for further consideration.
It was not until the release of the TRB agreement, signed Aug. 12-13, that the allegations and the steps to amend the problem became a matter of public record.
For parents of students at Wellington like Titia Jetten, who serves on the school's parental advisory committee, it can be difficult to say whether the secrecy was warranted or not.
"Wellington is a very good school. I absolutely trust them in how they handle things," she said. "I experience that a primary concern of our school is the safety of children; that is number one."
Jetten said she has three sons at the school. While she knows their safety is treated with the highest regard, she said she has concerns.
"We, as the public, don't know exactly what has happened," she said.
"Every parent is very careful. (You) don't want anything to happen to your child."
The College of Teachers became the TRB in January, 2012. According to a spokeswoman, a backlog of cases with allegations made before the transition has been a top priority for the agency, which administers the credentials of educators.
While the district disciplined Lettington in 2009, that backlog of older cases may have contributed to the delay, the TRB says. District spokeswoman Donna Reimer said that in extreme cases, the superintendent of schools can remove a teacher from their position to protect students.
Allegations of misconduct generally lead to an internal investigation which will decide the teacher's fate, she said.
"All of those processes take place in what we would call a confidential manner," she said. "The teacher might be away from the classroom; the reason wouldn't be known to many people."
According to school district board chairman Jamie Brennan, internal inquiries can sometimes involve outside investigators.
While no public notifications are made about disciplinary decisions at the district level, Brennan said the district has the power to remove a teacher from the classroom, if necessary.
"As the employer, we're the first line. .. We hire and we fire and we discipline," he said.
Parents would only be notified if there were criminal code violations involved, he added.
© Copyright 2013