Recently, several inflammatory articles have cast a negative view of teachers and incompletely described the disciplinary process that governs complaints of unprofessional conduct or incompetence. On behalf of over 12,000 teachers, who are highly committed to the social contract they hold with the public and who proudly deliver exceptional service to students throughout Saskatchewan, I am writing to provide further clarification.
The public trusts professional teachers because they have the qualifications, including specialized knowledge, skills and judgment, to serve students’ education needs. In turn, teachers have a responsibility to act at all times in a manner that is worthy of this public trust and consistent with the teaching profession’s expectations. This includes an appropriate degree of professional self-regulation within the broader supervision and certification structure of the employer and the government.
The legislative assembly has entrusted the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation with the responsibility to ensure that teacher members maintain a high standard of professional conduct and teaching practice. The Teachers’ Federation Act, 2006 and The Education Act, 1995 prescribe nine definitions of professional misconduct or conduct not becoming to a teacher. These are expanded further in the Federation’s Code of Professional Ethics, Code of Professional Competence and Code of Collective Interests.
All written complaints received by the Federation are adjudicated based on these legislative definitions, the codes and the disciplinary process defined in the organization’s bylaws. This process includes three quasi-judicial committees, prescribed in legislation, that are elected to hear and adjudicate complaints against teachers. Transparency is ensured through the appointment of a public representative by the lieutenant governor in council to the STF professional ethics committee.
During any investigation or prosecution of a disciplinary matter, all complainants and respondents are afforded due process and the principles of natural justice (such as the right to notice, the right to be present at the hearing, the right to cross examine and the right to counsel). Teacher discipline is conducted with the rigour and integrity that is required of a judicial or quasi-judicial process, which exceeds the legal requirements of many other professional regulatory systems. The decision of the Federation and the penalty can be appealed by a teacher directly to the Court of Appeal for Saskatchewan.
The penalties permitted by the legislation range from a reprimand to a recommendation to the Minister of Education that a teacher’s certificate be suspended or cancelled. The Minister of Education has the power to act on the Federation’s decision and recommendation by suspending or cancelling the teacher’s certificate. If the Minister is of the opinion that a decision is unjust or contrary to the public interest, he or she may request the reconsideration of a case and its findings. To date, the Minister has never requested that an ethics or disciplinary matter be reconsidered.
If a teacher is convicted of an offence under any one of 14 sections of the Criminal Code of Canada, the conduct is, by statute, deemed to constitute professional misconduct and the provincial executive will, after a penalty hearing, make a recommendation to the Minister of Education regarding the teacher’s certificate. In these circumstances, a teacher’s certificate has invariably been recommended for cancellation.
Contrary to recent headlines, teachers do not lack accountability. The Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation shares responsibility with its partners in education including administrators, directors, school boards and government to ensure the integrity of the education system in our province.
In addition to the Federation’s disciplinary process, boards of education have their own duty of due diligence and policies for the hiring and disciplining of teachers. The Ministry of Education is responsible for certifying and ultimately suspending or cancelling a teacher’s certificate. Under the current legislation, it is the Minister of Education who has responsibility for the final oversight and for determining whether or not a teacher’s certificate is revoked.
Saskatchewan teachers are committed to upholding the public trust and continuing to provide the best professional service to students possible. We will also continue to examine ways to ensure the rigour, integrity and transparency of the disciplinary process.
To suggest that the disciplinary process administered by the Federation is secretive and broken is, at best, an unwarranted alarm about the safety and education of our children and, at worst, a direct attack on the professionalism and integrity of teachers. Further, the sensational nature of these articles has the potential to harm many people. It is inappropriate to publish this evidentiary material, which may compromise the privacy of all individuals involved, including children and youth.
Gwen Dueck - Executive Director, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation