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Pitfalls and Precautions: Teacher fined for crossing boundaries in relationship with student

September 26, 2017 Gaylene Schreiber, Secretary to ATA Professional Conduct Committee

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 purpose of the series is purely educational, so some non-essential information from the actual case may be omitted or changed.

An experienced high school teacher became aware that one of his students was having trouble at home, including food shortages due to a lack of money. The teacher attempted to address this need by hiring the student to prepare some classroom materials for him. However, the teacher paid the student a significant sum of money shortly after arranging for the work, despite the student’s expressed hesitation about taking the money and her concern that the work was not yet complete. By ignoring the student’s concern, the teacher made the student feel uncomfortable about the arrangement. The project-for-pay arrangement itself became a concern, as it contributed to the developing inappropriate teacher-student relationship.

To complicate matters, one afternoon and evening, the teacher also engaged in texting with the student while he was under the influence of alcohol. The content of the texts was unprofessional, containing references to adult subject matter. When the parent of the student complained to the school jurisdiction, the teacher resigned.

The hearing committee ordered a penalty of a letter of severe reprimand and a fine of $1,000 to address two charges of failing to treat a student with dignity and respect, based on article 4 of the Code of Professional Conduct. In its decision, the committee considered the teacher’s experience, the student’s vulnerability, and the facts that the teacher resigned because of the indiscretion and that the teacher had no previous complaints against him. The penalty serves as a deterrent to others and maintains confidence in the profession. The profession and society hold teachers to a high standard of behaviour in both their professional lives and their personal conduct away from the classroom.

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