'Failed to protect students': Minister LaGrange proposes new rules for the ATA
The Alberta government says it is stepping in to protect students after shocking revelation from a disciplinary hearing of a former Calgary teacher detailed child abuse that was never reported to police by the Alberta Teachers Association.
Michael Gregory, the Calgary Board of Education teacher at the centre of the scandal, was suspended in 2006, but only charged with sex crimes against students earlier this year.
When he took his own life days later, the case never went to court. Now, a number of former students have joined a $40-million class action lawsuit against the board and Gregory’s estate claiming abuse and a failure to protect them.
Once details of an Alberta Teachers' Association (ATA) disciplinary ruling were made public, it was learned that Gregory admitted his wrongdoing 15 years before charges were laid.
That's something that should change, says Alberta's Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
"Like many Albertans, I was horrified when I first read the details of allegations brought forward regarding a former Calgary Board of Education teacher," she wrote in a statement released Thursday.
"I was also appalled that the Alberta Teachers’ Association did not believe they had an obligation to report its disciplinary findings to police," she continued.
"They chose to solely rely on a disciplinary process that recommended only a two-year suspension for admitted child abuse. We will never know what the results of a full, timely criminal investigation could have been."
During a two-day hearing, held in 2006, Gregory admitted to "incidents of inappropriate behaviour" to members of the ATA.
The misconduct included emails, text messages and an inappropriate relationship with two female students.
At the conclusion of the hearing, the ATA stripped Gregory of his teaching certificate and was satisfied that he would never teach again.
LaGrange now wants to ensure that students are kept safe from future incidents and those responsible face much swifter disciplinary action.
"This episode clearly demonstrates that the ATA failed to protect students from a predatory teacher," she said.
To counter these situations, LaGrange says the government will use legislation to force the ATA to notify Alberta Education about complaints about their members immediately.
Furthermore, she says Alberta Education will begin work on a new disciplinary process, separate from "the ATA's mandate and functions."
"It is now abundantly clear that the ATA can no longer act as the investigator and the prosecutor for complaints against its members. This obvious conflict of interest has made Alberta an outlier. All other provinces and territories follow either an arm's-length or government-operated model for teacher discipline," she said.
Cory Bonkowsky and Kelly Schneider were both former students of Michael Gregory. Police say an additional 10 victims and 35 witnesses reached out to investigators after initial charges were made public and that the investigation against Gregory remains open.
ATA CALLS PROPOSAL AN 'ATTACK'
The ATA, in a statement released later on Thursday, called LaGrange's suggestion of changes an attempt "to dismantle Alberta's teaching profession."
Jason Schilling, president of the ATA, said the Gregory discipline case is merely "cover" for the attack on Alberta teachers.
"In this case, only one party did the job it was supposed to do, and that was the Alberta Teachers' Association," he said in a statement. "As a result of our processes, this teacher was removed from the profession and never taught again."
He adds the Alberta government was also aware of Gregory's inappropriate conduct and failed to act when it received the ATA's report of the disciplinary hearing.
"This is why teachers and an increasing number of ordinary Albertans just have no trust in this minister and the government’s agenda for education," Schilling said.
LaGrange expects the government to provide updates on the "important work" in the coming days.
Police say an additional 10 victims and 35 witnesses reached out to investigators after initial charges were made public and that the investigation against Gregory remains open.
The claims made in the class-action lawsuit have not been tested in court.
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