Windsor teacher faces abuse charges by Ontario College of Teachers

Colleen Anne Murphy was a substitute teacher for the Greater Essex County District School Board in the Windsor, Ontario area for seven years, resigning in 2009 amid allegations she physically and psychologically abused students. According to Sarah Sacheli of the Windsor Star, Murphy is expected to appear before an Ontario College of Teachers  disciplinary committee on these charges next week during two days of hearings beginning October 25th, 2011.

This case will be interesting given recent revelations by the Toronto Star regarding secrecy and teacher union involvement in the disciplinary hearings. Check out what I wrote here, including my three endnotes, as well as links to the Kevin Donovan articles.

In effect then, the Murphy hearing will be a test case to see if the OCT secrecy and laissez-fair attitude regarding teachers abusing students remains and whether or not she has her licence to teach in Ontario reinstated. Remember, this disciplinary process should not be about protecting teachers’ reputations and names because I assume there are witnesses to the various allegations.

Meaning, disciplinary hearings at the OCT should, first and foremost, be about the public interest and public trust in those working with children and youth in one of our public institutions — an institution that requires compulsory attendance!

Time will tell.

6 thoughts on “Windsor teacher faces abuse charges by Ontario College of Teachers

  1. For every story, there are two sides. In some cases, reinstatement after a prolong period of five years is completely understandable. We are human, we all make mistakes and this includes teachers. Yes it is true, teachers are held to a GREATER level of professionalism, but this in some cases is so unrealistic and bound to be broken. There are so many cases where some teachers have lost their licenses to teach because of a minor infraction, or an infraction where no real boundaries had been broken, but because of some hardline policy they had their license revoked. The OCT does not take matters lightly, but sadly, the media has decided to focus on some bad apples to increase circulation. The public should also know that 1) accused teachers do not have the right to examine the evidence 2) accused teachers do not have the right to question their accuser before the tribunal unless the OCT permits it 3) the OCT does not have to follow precendent 4) the accused teacher doesnt get all information disclosed to them. Remember, the system, despite what you have read in the Toronto Star, does not benefit the accused, but instead the student. Sadly, teachers have been falsly accused many times in the past, and so please remember to be critical at all times. No student is perfect, no teacher is perfect, no system is perfect…we are all perfectly flawed.

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  2. Sorry Seth — I can see where you are coming from but I agree only in part in what you write. I am a retired teacher myself and former teacher educator. No excuses. You are wrong that teachers can be excused because they are flawed like everyone else. True, you and I have flaws but never, under any circumstance, can we be excused for abusing students. Never. And, no reinstatement of license if found guilty. Plus, the very idea that accused teachers would be allowed to question their accusers is just horrendous. Talk about intimidation of victims and causing even more abuse. That is no different than men who have raped women being allowed to have their lawyers trash the women — not on the basis of the alleged crime, but rumour and hearsay about previous events.

    However, you are right about a related issue. Too many times teachers have been falsely accused. In fact, I personally know of two men whose teaching career was ruined on the basis of lies. But, I would hope that the College has proof of the abuse they are examining.

    Anyway, one way around this is to never, ever, be alone in a classroom with a student unless the hall or office door is wide open — male or female. And, even with young children, never touch a child unless they touch you. And, even if they touch you, do not touch them back. Unfortunate, but just the way it is and should be. What I am thinking about is when an SK child comes running across the school yard and with great exuberance grabs a teacher’s arm or legs in greeting. They are just so trusting and so accepting. But, even then we teachers, without rejecting them, have to slowly remove their hands and smile and walk with them beside us.

    I also don’t believe the Star was on a witch hunt. What motivation would drive Donovan to do that? If you read my previous article you will know my personal experience with the annual “slate” of union approved candidates for the OCT council. Moreover, it is a reality that union activists have been on the disciplinary committee. Not good at all. No, the Star in this case is doing this in the public interest.

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  3. just to follow up.

    Re: facing accusor: In any system, our criminal system for instance, the accuse has the right to challenge the evidence and testimony of their accusor. In rape instances, there is disclosure…but the OCT doesn’t have to disclose testimony given from the accusor…the choice is theirs and one’s lawyer would need to fight for it. So I ask you, how can the legal counsel of a teacher properly cross examine the student. I’m not saying a 4 yrs old should take the stand, but a 16+ year old should be cross examined in the same way as any judicial system would permit. The College takes the word of the student and only bits and bites from the accused teacher. Like I said before, there is no requirement to disclose information, to question information and make a sound response. the OCT can hide from all of this, because the OCT call themselves QUASI-judicial. In any judicial process, this would not be allowed…but when you are QUASI you get to play with the rules. I am sure your teacher friends would say that the process is very one sided and not always fair.

    Re; Toronto Star Not on Witch Hunt: THis is not the first time the Toronto Star has done an expose (add accent on the e!!). CTV, Globe and Mail, Toroto Sun and Star have done many stories on the OCT time and time again. They do this, because they know readers/views tune into this stuff. The Toronto Star in reality did not expose anything that other agencies have not reported. You, as a former teacher, can’t help to feel that these sorts of ‘investigative journalism’ only serve to caste a sad shadow on the entire profession when only a few disgrace it. Journalists probably do some ethical, immoral, and disturbing things too, and yet we hear none of that! This stuff only makes people view teachers as preditor scum, and totally overshadows their good work. I didn’t pick up the T.Star that entire week, because I just can’t support that kind of ”journalism.”

    Re: Reinstatement: Look, there are definitely teachers who should never teach again. I am not saying we allow those individuals back. What I am saying, is that there are circumstances where a teacher had a momentary lapse of judgement, or teachers who did committ a serious wrong, but got the help and training that deserves a second chance. Lapse in judgement happens to all of us, but should not label us a horrible teacher for all time. Case in point: a 25 yrs old teacher from Sudbury meets a young women who is 18. The teacher has NEVER taught her, NEVER been in the same school with her, when all is said and done, there is no connection/trust/authority whatsoever. They are intimate 3 times. The end result is that the young teacher loses his license because he ‘sexually abused’ a student who was in the SAME SCHOOL BOARD. Our criminal justice system says THIS IS OKAY, but until 2002, it became against OCT policy. Abuse…i don’t know about that. To me, that teacher is not a preditor or any other adjective you have in mind, but a young teacher who didn’t think and probably didn’t know that teachers are in a position of trust and authority not only with students in their own class, in their school but in the entire jurisdiction.

    RE: Training. You are totally right; never be in the classroom alone with a student/touch or say anything inappropriate…the list goes on. There are obviously boundaries that every teacher knows, but there are just as many policies that new/young teachers DO NOT KNOW and which could seriously affect them professionally. The OCT, EFTO, OSSTF need to do much much much more training on policies, boundaries etc to ensure that no teacher gets in trouble for something he/she didn’t think was wrong. Just like teachers need to get First Aid renewal every year, they should also have to take part in a mandatory boundaries course that explains strategies on maintaining boundaries, and also new issues/policies. Ontario Teachers, unlike teachers in the US, do not have to take assessments on professional practice and there is very little out there that requires/mandates teachers to complete professional boundary/issues/policy training.

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  4. Well Seth, I have always been of the opinion that the unions shouldn’t be in charge of PD. Conflict of interest. But, I know that when I was involved in pre-service and graduate teacher programs, we sure talked about boundaries. In fact, when I did classroom supervision during the teaching blocks, that was always a topic for discussion in relation to routines and classroom management. It doesn’t have to be separate training. Plus, I may be missing something here but isn’t it simply common sense to be cautious?

    Re the 18 year old and the same board, that was ridiculous! The 18 year old was old enough to make a decision and the teacher was not teaching her, so there was no position of trust involved. My goodness, I have a sister-in-law who dated her Geography teacher after she graduated — at age 18 and she married him!!! Now, I wouldn’t recommend that but it was certainly not abuse.

    In many ways, reading what you write reminds me of what is wrong with the Human Rights Tribunals. They are quasi-legal and defendants simply don’t have the same rights they would have in a court of law.

    So, maybe that is what the unions should be advocating — take the more serious allegations right out of the hands of the OCT to the courts but with some legal aid so the teachers are not bankrupted.

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  5. you said: So, maybe that is what the unions should be advocating — take the more serious allegations right out of the hands of the OCT to the courts but with some legal aid so the teachers are not bankrupted.

    And I say; YES…TOTALLY AGREE. If it is that serious then the courts, which are much more transparent than the OCT when it comes to the judicial process, should take over.

    That 25 yrs old teacher is a friend of mine. He is a good person; involved in the community; helps with victim services and doesn’t even have a traffic ticket on his record. He never thought for the life of him that his very brief relationship was sexual abuse, but under OCT rules that came into effect in 2002, it is. He graduated teachers training in 2007 in New York and would never had known about this policy. In fact, many teachers don’t. In ANY OTHER profession, he would not have been in conflict with a reg.professional body because there was absolutely no trust/authority between him and the girl. His license was recently revoked, and he cannot join another professional body until the OCT in 5 years(which is the law in Ontario) considers reinstatement. He, as far as the OCT is concerned, is a sexual abuser. Your sister-in-laws husband would have lost his license as well since you cannot date a former student for a number of years afterwards. In the medical profession, it is 1 year. The point is this; don’t always judge the teacher when you read the disciplinary publication on-line, because only half the story is ever publicized and sometimes the whole term “abuse” can be somewhat misleading/not accurate. “Believe only half of the things you read, see and hear,” in those publications.

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  6. “Believe only half of what you read.” Therein is the problem Seth. Since the McGuinty gov’t came to power, few disciplinary cases are made public so we don’t even have the option of believing half of the details. So, that is what I agree with the Star article about. Most cases are simply listed in Professionally Speaking as “unidentified” so we will never know. All that type of secrecy does is make the public suspicious.

    It seems as though your friends situation is an anomoly from what I have read about the majority of cases, which are serious. In fact, if the only way teachers are going to be made aware of the rules is the publication of the disciplinary hearing’s details, then that is a good thing in the long run. The reality is that the public simply doesn’t read that document unless they have a particular reason to do so.

    By the way, the rules are pretty much the same in colleges and universities (as they are in the medical professions) where I spent the last half of my teaching career. And, they are dealing with adults!

    Re my sister-in-law, that was back in the 70s. They had two children and then divorced after 8 to ten years. She admitted later that she had been too young to make a meaningful decision.

    Anyway, teachers are professionals and that means, in the final analysis, it is up to us to make sure we know the rules, no matter where we got our initial training. In my own small way, this blog and the posts about this topic are my way of doing that. And, judging from the traffic, and hearing from practitioners like you, that type of dialogue is happening.

    If a teachers’ union official is reading this, perhaps it might be a good idea to have province-wide or country-wide PD activities on all this — particularly on the first PA day of each year for new teachers.

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