September 1997

Striking a Fine Balance
Investigations and Hearings


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"The best solution is the solution closest to the problem."

By Denys Giguère

Investigations and Hearings co-ordinator Patrick O’Neill is very careful when he explains how the Ontario College of Teachers will deal with complaints against teachers – a reflection of how the department intends to do business.

O’Neill, a veteran of 28 years on the senior staff of the Ontario, English, Catholic Teachers Association, stresses that success for the department is striking the fine balance that will make both the public and teachers feel confident about the College’s investigation and hearing process.

"We are here to ensure that the teaching profession upholds what is commonly agreed are acceptable standards," says O’Neill. "Our role is to provide members of the public with a fair and open process to deal with their complaints when they feel that standards are not met, and attempts to redress the situation have failed.

"It’s also absolutely vital to give teachers fair and due process," adds O’Neill. Three committees – all chaired by practicing teachers – are responsible for ensuring that both the public interest and teachers’ rights are protected.

Committees Lead the Way
Veterans Head Staff

The first is the Investigation Committee, chaired by Hamilton secondary teacher Harry Mulvale. If the members of that committee refer a complaint to a public hearing, it goes to either the Fitness to Practise Committee, chaired by Marilyn Laframboise from Amherstburg’s École St-Jean-Baptiste, or the Discipline Committee, chaired by George Merrett, a principal-teacher from Harrow.

"The authority to make decisions rests with these three committees, which bring together elected members from the school system and appointed members of the public," says O’Neill. "The mix of elected teachers and appointed members of the public assures the impartiality and fairness of the process."

Other key staff members who work with Council members to resolve complaints are lawyer Claire Barcik, the department’s senior investigator, and longtime teacher Laurent Joncas, former president of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO) and now senior intake officer with the College.

How complaints are handled

The process the College of Teachers follows to deal with complaints is not unlike that of most other colleges. In fact, the College consulted with a number of them – including social workers, nurses and doctors – to begin to establish its own process.

Investigation Committee member Michel Gravelle, a science and math teacher from Val Caron, makes a point at a recent committee meeting. Committee members, clockwise from left: Doug Carter, an elementary teacher from Gloucester; Gravelle; John Cruickshank, an elementary school principal from Mississauga; committee chair Harry Mulvale, a secondary teacher from Hamilton. College staffer Claire Barcik has her back to the camera.

"Teaching is a human endeavour, and communications is paramount," says Joncas, whose unit is the first point of contact for people who want to raise a complaint about a member of the College. "Usually, issues don’t get resolved because of a lack of communication or an inability to find an appropriate solution.’’

The first step when a call comes in is to make sure that the College is the right place to call. Is the complaint directed at a member of the College? Have other avenues of resolution been explored? Is the teacher aware of the problem? Has the school principal been informed?

These are all questions that will be asked early on in the conversation to evaluate the seriousness of the call and determine if there are alternate ways to find a resolution.

"What we want to stress the most is that the best solution is the solution closest to the problem," insists O’Neill. "If somebody wants to lodge a complaint at the College, but hasn’t tried to solve the problem at the school level, we’ll definitely encourage him or her to go that way first. The College is not an option to avoid dealing with a teacher, a principal or a local school board.

"In the same way," says O’Neill, "the College is not here to do the job of the employer when it comes to supervising teachers in the classroom. Regulation 298 is still in place. That means that principals and superintendents are still responsible for supervising teaching and programs."

If attempts at solving the problem have failed, the College’s staff member taking the call will explain carefully how to file a formal complaint and what will be required of the caller before an investigation is launched. For example, all complaints have to be filed in writing, follow a set format, give the name of the member the complaint relates to and must be signed by the complainant. This standard procedure ensures that both parties involved have access to the same, complete information.

Teachers and complainants are both assured that complaints will be dealt with promptly, because the Ontario College of Teachers Act requires the College to make every effort to resolve a complaint within 120 days.

An investigation is launched

Filing a written complaint marks the beginning of a thorough fact-finding process that starts with assigning an investigator whose role is not to find out who’s right and who’s wrong, but to collect all pertinent information to the allegations.

"We are looking for facts," says lawyer Claire Barcik, who heads the investigation team. "And we have to make sure that the information we collect is complete. Teachers have a right to fully understand the nature of the complaint against them so they can respond to it."

An investigation report would generally include a statement of facts from the complainant, a response from the member of the College, information previously collected on the case at the school or board level, information provided by witnesses, and any other relevant information, such as applicable laws and regulations.

Once completed, an investigation report is shared with the complainant and the member, as well as the College’s Investigation Committee.

"A number of options are open to the Investigation Committee based on the facts collected during the investigation," says committee chair Harry Mulvale. "Our goal is to find the most appropriate solution to the matter based on the information before us."

The goal is to reach a resolution

The options available to the Investigation Committee may include dismissing a case for lack of evidence, or requiring a member to be cautioned or admonished. In some cases, the committee may simply hold off on making a decision to help the parties reach a compromise or a resolution.

Another avenue for the Investigation Committee is to refer the case, in whole or in part, to the Fitness to Practise Committee – in cases of incapacity – or to the Discipline Committee – in cases of professional misconduct or incompetence. A case referred to these two committees would most likely go to a full hearing.

If a public hearing finds that allegations against a teacher are unfounded, Professionally Speaking will report that the allegations were dismissed if the teacher wants to be cleared publicly.

"Cases will be directed to the Discipline Committee or the Fitness to Practise Committee based on serious concerns brought to light in the course of the investigation," says Mulvale. "A full range of solutions will be considered, from postponing a penalty with conditions to be met in specified timeframe to imposing conditions on a certificate, or suspending or revoking a licence."

"From the very beginning until a matter is resolved, our goal is to solve the problem," concludes O’Neill. "If there’s a possibility to reach a resolution that will be acceptable to both parties, there is no doubt that we will do everything possible to reach it."

For more information on the Investigations and Hearings Department, visit the department’s home page .


Committees Lead the Way

The chairs of all three College committees that will deal with complaints against teachers stress the importance of judgement in resolving cases.

Investigation –
Harry Mulvale

The Investigation Committee plays a pivotal role in the investigation process as it makes the initial decision on how a complaint can best be resolved. This group of five elected and two public members can either handle the case itself or refer it to one of the other two committees.

"We have many options to come up with a resolution that satisfies both parties," says secondary teacher Harry Mulvale, who chairs the committee. "If there are grounds to question a teacher’s capacity to teach, competence or conduct, the case will be referred to the appropriate committee to determine how to address these concerns."

Fitness to Practise –
Marilyn Laframboise

This small committee of three teachers and two public members is chaired by elementary teacher Marilyn Laframboise. Its responsibility is to determine whether or not a teacher who’s been the subject of a complaint has the capacity to teach, and if not, what actions are needed to redress the situation.

"The emphasis of the Fitness to Practise Committee is on rehabilitating the teacher suffering from physical, mental and emotional disorders," says Mrs. Laframboise. "Issues may be quite complex and require both good judgement and sensitivity. Decisions made will reflect the need to protect the public interest and to give fair treatment to the teacher."

Discipline –
George Merrett

The Discipline Committee is the largest of all three committees with 11 members, including four public appointees. Its size is due to the committee’s need to be fully accountable to the public and the complexity of the cases it will take on.

"Professional misconduct and incompetence are very serious allegations," says committee chair George Merrett, an elementary principal-teacher from Harrow. "Parents, teachers and the public need to know that we will deal with these serious allegations fairly and appropriately while acting in the interest of the public and the profession. The members of the Discipline Committee certainly realize the extreme importance of their deliberations and are looking forward to ensuring that the students of Ontario are taught by competent, trustworthy teachers."


Veterans Head Staff

Patrick O’Neill

Patrick O’Neill brings a broad range of experience to the job of co-ordinator of the College’s Investigations and Hearings Department. With 28 years on the senior staff of the Ontario Catholic English Teachers’ Association (OECTA), O’Neill is a seasoned veteran when it comes to dealing with issues like criminal prosecution, dismissal, professional misconduct, illness and disability, and issues of ethics and competence.

Before joining OECTA’s staff, O’Neill was himself a teacher in his native Ireland and in Metropolitan Toronto. He is a graduate of St. Mary’s College of the University of London Institute of Education (England), York University and the University of Toronto.

Claire Barcik

Claire Barcik is senior investigator/
manager of the Investigations Unit. She leads the Investigations Unit staff in conducting investigations and developing policies for investigations and mediation.

She previously worked at the College of Psychologists of Ontario in the field of complaints and
discipline. A lawyer with a background in psychology, Barcik is a graduate of the University of Toronto and the University
of Ottawa, and also studied at the Université Laval in Québec City.

Laurent Joncas

Laurent Joncas can look at teaching issues from a number of perspectives.

An English teacher for 23 years, Joncas is a former president of the Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO), second vice-president of the Ontario Teachers’ Federation and education officer at the Ministry of Education and Training. He also served as a member on a number of teaching-related committees and was a director of the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.

Joncas is currently senior intake officer at the Ontario College of Teachers, where he supervises the work of bilingual intake assistants, develops and maintains procedures for the unit and manages the unit’s caseload.