The passage of Bill 48, the Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act, means better student protection, enhanced teacher professionalism and improved governance.
By Brian Jamieson
Photo: Daniel Ehrenworth
In 2016, the College addressed a government standing committee to press for clear laws and language that broadened and specified what might be deemed sexual abuse and constitute professional misconduct.
Flash forward to 2019 and a change in government. That plea from the teaching profession’s regulator has been heard.
The College had urged the government to amend its Act to expand the definition of acts that would result in mandatory revocation. This included forms of physical sexual relations between a member and a student other than sexual intercourse, and touching of a sexual nature of the student by a member not restricted to an identified body part.
Introduced last October, the bill received Royal Assent on April 3, 2019. The Safe and Supportive Classrooms Act addresses the need for strong, clear legislation to further protect Ontario students. The new definitions adopt “prescribed sexual acts” identified in Canada’s Criminal Code. As well, the Act makes clear that student sexual abuse does not include “touching or behaviour that is necessary for the purposes of diapering, washing or dressing a student as part of a teacher’s professional responsibilities and remarks that are pedagogically appropriate.”
In praising the proposed legislation during a government standing committee presentation in November, Council Chair Nicole van Woudenberg, OCT, said: “It helps to protect students knowing that there are no grey areas when it comes to defining sexual abuse and understanding what constitutes professional misconduct.”
The Chair also acknowledged the legislative change to enable student victims of sexual abuse to receive therapy and counselling. Changes to the Ontario College of Teachers Act require the College to provide funding for counselling or therapy to students in connection with allegations of sexual abuse or prohibitive acts involving child pornography. The provincial government will determine what the program looks like, who is eligible, what the funding would be, over what period of time, whether it’s retroactive, who provides the therapy and how the money could be used. The College has regulatory authority to add other eligibility requirements if needed.
In addition to amendments affecting the College’s disciplinary authority, the amended Act makes a math test for teacher applicants mandatory as a condition for certification. (Teachers with math specialist qualifications will be exempt.) Council firmly believes that the College should not develop, fund, or implement the test proposed in Bill 48. However, the College should have the regulatory authority to impose it as a condition of certification and the authority to deem equivalence. Beyond accrediting programs to ensure that new teachers acquire the knowledge, understanding and skills needed to teach the Ontario curriculum, the College has “developed Additional Qualification courses to enhance and deepen their knowledge and skills in teaching math to students at all levels,” said College Deputy Registrar Joe Jamieson, OCT.
Working closely with government representatives to continue to promote high standards and enhance teacher competency is a priority for the College, he added.
In March 2018, the College initiated an external review of its governance structure, commissioning David Brown of Governance Solutions Inc. to study the size, scope and effectiveness of the College’s Council and its 14 committees. As with previous reviews, most notably the independent review of College disciplinary processes and practices by former Ontario justice Patrick LeSage, the College released the Brown report and its 37 recommendations publicly in late November 2018.
The report (oct-oeeo.ca/governance) was turned over to Council’s governance committee for direction prior to further consideration and action at the March 2019 Council meeting. (Council’s recommendations can be found on p.49.) Among other considerations, the governance report to Council recommends reducing the size of Council and broadening roster participation on various committees.
Van Woudenberg emphasized that consultation, self-reflection and external reviews are fundamental tenets of College operations. Bill 48 also signals government-proposed changes to how the College is governed and works to serve the public interest, and what it could do to improve.