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Governing Ourselves

Governing Ourselves informs members of legal and regulatory matters affecting the profession. This section provides updates on licensing and qualification requirements, notification of Council resolutions and reports from various Council committees, including reports on accreditation and discipline matters.

In the public interest

Investigating complaints

College staff and Council members each have important roles in exploring allegations.

Just about everything the Ontario College of Teachers does can be traced to helping members understand and meet their professional expectations. That includes taking action if a member fails to meet these expectations.

In the last issue of Professionally Speaking, we discussed the complaints process. Continuing this series, we now turn to investigations.

To recap, the Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession and the Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession define what it means to be a teacher in Ontario. In addition, the Professional Misconduct Regulation defines what actions form misconduct for College members.

Anyone can make a complaint about a member’s alleged failure to carry out their professional responsibilities. The College then has a duty to review these potential lapses.

In any given year, the College receives approximately 1,000 expressions of concern, calls and queries about members and the role of the College. In many cases, people are simply seeking guidance or asking about the College’s juris-diction. About 600 of these matters turn into formal written complaints, mainly from the public and employer reports.

To explore these issues, the Investigations Unit (staff) and the Investigation Committee (Council members) each play a part.

It starts with the Investigations Unit. A Manager of Investigations leads an in-house team that includes a senior investigator, about 14 investigators and support staff. Their backgrounds range from teaching to law, to policing, to social work. Some staff also have experience with other professional regulators.

Generally, a complaint is assigned to a single investigator. He or she will review any inquiries already carried out on the matter (for example, by an employer), conduct additional interviews and obtain relevant documents as required.

If an investigator requests an interview with a witness who is a member, that individual cannot refuse to participate. Failure to co-operate with an investigation could be considered professional misconduct.

The investigation is a confidential process. At all stages, the member who is the subject of the complaint has the right and opportunity to respond to allegations.

Any time new information comes to light, the College must disclose it to the member. It also encourages members under investigation to consult and seek guidance from their federation or association.

Once this part of the process is complete, the results go to a three-person panel of the Investigation Committee. This committee consists of current elected and appointed Council members (and possibly previous Council members).

The investigation is a confidential process. At all stages, the member who is the subject of the complaint has the right and opportunity to respond to allegations.

Committee panels typically meet twice a month. When they deliberate, members of the panel consider the investigator’s report and supporting documentation, discuss the case and decide how to proceed.

A panel has several options. It can dismiss the complaint because of insufficient information to support it. At times, it will see information at an early stage and then determine if the complaint is frivolous or vexatious, or unrelated to professional misconduct, incompetence or incapacity. In those cases, no investigation is required.

In other cases, the panel can remind, advise or caution the member in writing, or admonish the member in writing or in person. This has no bearing on a member’s Certificate of Qualification and Registration. It’s a way for the panel to raise its concerns, so the member can ideally learn from the incident and prevent further occurrences.

Depending on the seriousness of the alleged conduct, and if there is sufficient supporting evidence to warrant a hearing, a panel of the Investigation Committee can also refer the matter (in whole or part) to one of two committees:

the Registrar notifies the member, the complainant and the member’s current employer. If a past employer reported the matter, they will also receive a notification of the decision.

As of December 2016, referrals to the Discipline Committee are noted on the public register, Find a Teacher. The notation stays on the register until a Notice of Hearing is served to the member.

If a member is in good standing with the College, he or she will remain so throughout the investigation. However, an employer may choose to suspend the member with or without pay — that is up to the employer, not the College.

To gain insight into the kind of decisions facing a panel of the Investigation Committee, review the case studies published in each issue of Professionally Speaking. These “What-would-you-do?” scenarios help to illuminate the types of issues that come before the College and demystify what happens during an investigation.

In addition to the outcomes noted above, the Investigation Committee can also ratify a Memorandum of Agreement reached through a complaint resolution process. That’s the topic of the next instalment in the June 2018 issue. We’ll wrap up the series in the September 2018 issue with a look at disciplinary and fitness hearings, decisions and findings.