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Pitfalls and Precautions: Touching students is a bad idea

May 14, 2019 Cory Schoffer, ATA Secretary to Professional Conduct Committees

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.

At a recent hearing of the Professional Conduct Committee, a teacher was charged with inappropriately touching several students over multiple years.

The hearing committee heard that the teacher, who taught in an upper-elementary class, routinely targeted selected female students and began cultivating relationships with those students whereby he showed significant favouritism. The teacher’s favoured students were granted access and privileges (such as free time on the class computer) that other students didn’t receive. Witnesses testified that the students selected for this favoured treatment were always individual girls, and also that girls in general were treated better than boys in the teacher’s class. The committee also heard that the teacher would escalate the interaction to include massaging students on the neck, back and shoulders. On some occasions, the teacher’s contact with students included reaching under their shirts to touch their breasts. Some students were invited and encouraged to sit on the teacher’s lap.

Students who testified had experienced varying levels of trauma as a result of the teacher’s behaviour. For most, their trauma hit them later, as they gained increased awareness of the inappropriateness of the behaviour they had been subjected to in elementary school.

The teacher was found guilty of five charges of unprofessional conduct. The teacher was deemed to have failed to treat students with dignity and respect. The teacher was declared ineligible for Association membership for two years, and a recommendation was made to the minister of education to suspend the teacher’s teaching certificate for a two-year period.

Teachers are strongly encouraged not to make physical contact with students, regardless of age or grade level. ❚

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