Pubdate: Sun, 17 May 2015
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 Times Colonist
Author: Lawrie McFarlane


A few months ago, school officials in Quebec City strip-searched a
15-year old-pupil. The girl was suspected of having drugs on her
person, though none were found.

The province's education minister at the time said he was OK with
this. He was promptly thrown under the bus after an entirely
predictable eruption of public outrage.

But this apparently left local educators in a tizzy. After all, if you
can't strip-search students, how is order to be kept?

Fortunately, the Education Ministry had an answer. A former Crown
prosecutor was given terms of reference for a study. Specifically, he
was asked this question: If strip searches at the instigation of a
school official are out, how may they be conducted?

His answer? A police officer should conduct the search. No doubt that
reassured school kids everywhere.

But the broader question surely is, what were those school
administrators thinking in the first place? Are educators honestly
equipped to perform such a brutish, intrusive procedure?

And how, in the aftermath, would any teacher or administrator be able
to face a student they had violated in this manner? Or the kid's
parents? Or a lynch mob, for that matter?

Aren't schools meant to be a haven of safety and caring? What happened
to zero tolerance of violence?

Regrettably, though, this is only the most recent manifestation of an
unfortunate and creeping trend. The last couple of years have seen a
series of situations where local school authorities have taken it upon
themselves to investigate matters well beyond their purview.

A substitute teacher in Ontario, Susan Dowell, was sent home from
school one day. For more than a week, no one would tell her why.

It turned out two students had confected an ugly story about her,
after she scolded one for some minor piece of mischief.

The Children's Aid Society conducted a full-scale investigation, and
cleared the teacher completely. But that wasn't sufficient for the
local school board.

They set out to mount an inquisition of their own. "We have a much
closer eye and a more detailed approach," said a board official.
Dowell was eventually exonerated - a second time.

Then there was the instance recently in Nanaimo, where a teacher was
fired over allegations of sexual assault on a student. The allegations
were transparently false - they mirrored plot lines in a TV reality

But although the Crown prosecutor declined to file criminal charges -
a clear indication the whole thing was bogus - the school board
carried out its own investigation, and dismissed the teacher anyway.

A distinction is needed here. If a staff member is alleged to have
committed an act of professional malpractice, it might indeed be
appropriate for the school to investigate. If the complaint, say, has
to do with poor classroom preparation, by all means let those
knowledgeable in such matters take charge.

But when the issue involves a potentially criminal act, there is no
way it should be handled intramurally. For one thing, the consequences
are far too serious to be dealt with in this manner.

Then again, most educators have no experience with the requirements of
due process.

There is also a significant legal jeopardy here for any school board
that takes on such a responsibility. Get in over your head or mess
things up, and you could be facing a major lawsuit.

Surely this is something the Education Ministry might address. We need
some clear guidance as to which offences school boards can properly
investigate, and which belong in the hands of law-enforcement agencies.

Instead, it feels as if our schools have embarked, almost without
realizing it, on a form of mission creep that will poison their
relationship with the community around them.

I can't believe this is a wise path to follow.
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