Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Academics Weigh in on Abuse of Teachers by Falsely Accusing Them


This article from CBC covers some important points, but the most important one is the first – there are no statistics.  One of the reasons is that every accusation is hush hush.  Even when cleared, a teacher is supposed to return to the classroom, grateful and silent.

False abuse accusations against teachers ‘on the rise’

By Mark Gollom, CBC News

Posted: Apr 24, 2012 5:05 AM ET

Last Updated: Apr 24, 2012 5:00 AM ET

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The number of false abuse allegations being made against teachers by students is difficult to determine as there is no central database or available statistics about the issue.The number of false abuse allegations being made against teachers by students is difficult to determine as there is no central database or available statistics about the issue. (istock)

Teachers across Canada are having their reputations ruined as increasing numbers get falsely accused of abusing their students, or acting inappropriately with them, experts say.

“We are getting more and more ‘teacher-talk’ evidence and teacher narratives that clearly indicate that false accusations are on the rise,” Jon Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University, told CBCNews via email.

“Active parents are making things, in some cases, very difficult,” he said.

University of Ottawa faculty of education professor Joel Westheimer told CBC’s Ottawa Morning that incidents of false allegations used to be fairly rare in both Canada and the United States.

“In recent years they’ve been growing dramatically,” he said. “More and more teachers are being accused of often frivolous [things].”

Westheimer slammed school administrators for being “spineless” for automatically ordering investigations regardless of how credible the allegation of abuse may be.

“In the short term you prevent lawsuits, and in the long term you prevent people from entering the teaching profession.”

The issue is making waves following the case of an Ontario substitute teacher who was accused of abuse after telling a grade 5 student not to throw out his banana.The Children’s Aid Society recently concluded the abuse allegation was unfounded.

‘Parents too quick to point fingers’

In an article published last year for the Canadian Education Association website entitled, False Accusations: A Growing Fear in the Classroom, Bradley wrote that some lies are being told about teachers by students who, “find support in parents and friends who are far too quick to point fingers.”

McGill University education professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers. He writes that students who make such allegations, 'find support in parents and friends who are too quick to point fingers.'McGill University education professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers. He writes that students who make such allegations, ‘find support in parents and friends who are too quick to point fingers.’ (CBC)Local teachers unions and other educational authorities are “struggling to identify such incidents,” he wrote. But at the same time, he wrote, they appear “ill-equipped to develop realistic procedures and plans that safeguard due process and the reputations of those falsely accused.”

The number of false allegations being made against teachers is difficult to determine as there is no central database or available statistics about the issue.

But in a study conducted at Nipissing University, entitled “A Report on the Professional Journey of Male Primary-Junior teachers in Ontario,” nearly 13 per cent of male educators said they had been falsely accused. The study had 223 respondents across Ontario.

“I think it’s pretty prevalent,” said Professor Douglas Gosse, one of the authors of the study.

“There’s a general belief among many teachers that the pendulum has swung too far,” he said, adding that male teachers in particular seem to be targeted more.”

“We all want to protect our children but I liken it to racial profiling. I think we have to be very careful that we don’t have these prejudices because of the person’s gender and at the same time we definitely have to take any accusation quite seriously. But some of them are unfounded.”

Gosse said it’s problematic that records about false abuse allegations aren’t being kept.

“I think that information should be documented and I suspect that the number of cases that are simply dismissed are huge. I can’t say if it’s a majority or not but I know that many, many of these incidents are dismissed because of lack of evidence.”

Teachers are often devastated by these allegations, which can drag out for many months, he said.

“The men that we interviewed were under extreme psychological stress. It affected their family, their wives, their children. Even when it was resolved, it still had long-lasting psychological damage.”

Accused teacher committed suicide

In his article, Bradley wrote that in one particular case, a teacher accused of physical assault committed suicide, even though he was cleared of the charges and the student recanted.

“While it may never be proven, his family (and many colleagues) share the view that [he] sought this drastic release because he could not bear the stain of a false accusation and the thought that his whole career was on the line,” Bradley wrote.

It’s also difficult to determine how many teachers leave the profession because they’ve been falsely accused, he added.

Bradley said children must be protected and teachers who would abuse students must be expelled from the school system. But there must also be mechanisms that protect the rights of innocent teachers, he said.

And little is done to hold students accountable for making up stories, Bradley added.

“In case after case, parents leap to the defence of apparently ‘abused’ children and, when the dust has settled, offer no compensation to the aggrieved teacher,” Bradley wrote. “This skewed arrangement puts more emphasis on unsupported adolescent narratives than on verifiable facts.”

Follow Up to Falsely Accused Teacher


Some comments of my own on the next CBC article:  A few years ago I went hunting for scholarly articles on abuse of teachers and false accusations.  I found nothing.  Virtually everything was about children.  Male teachers are certainly at risk and one article I found stated that women over forty are at risk.  It didn’t speculate about why.

My own speculations?  Women over 40 are more vulnerable. They may need the job due to divorce or vested interest in the pension plan as a single person or due to starting their career teaching late or having interrupted it for family.  Yes, men need theirs, too, but at 40 a woman teacher often has a lot further to go before she reaches her 85 factor (that’s the sum of her age plus years of service) and even then she gets less.

A teacher with uninterrupted years of service from the age of 25, can retire at the age of 55.   He won’t have the maximum pension possible, but it will be respectable.  Should he choose to go on to the age of 6o i.e. 35 years of service in this scenario, he will retire with the maximum pension possible.  That is only if he starts teaching at 25 and is uninterrupted until age 55 or 60.

How is the pension calculated?  It is 2%  of the average of the 5 best years of salary per year of service up to 70% of salary.  This hypothetical teacher who started young can retire with either 60% or 70% of salary depending on when he opts to retire.

Now let us look at the woman of 40.  Let us assume she delayed entering teaching until she was 35, ten years older than the other teacher.  She will be 60 when she reaches her 85 factor but she will only receive 25 x 2 = 50% of salary as pension.  Should she hang in there until 65, she will have reacher her 95 factor. but she will only receive 60% of salary as pension.

In many cases a woman teacher is in her second career and cannot afford to quit teaching unless she has worked out a good fall back position for retirement.  Women know how close they are to an impoverished old age.

Women over forty are less attractive.  It shouldn’t matter.  It does.  As a (male) friend of mine put it, watching a twenty something preen as her looks got her to the front of the line at a club and a drink that someone else paid for: “Enjoy it, sweetheart, because in twenty years you will be invisible”.   A female teacher over 40 better have several arrows to her bow or she had better be out running to stay in shape and to run in the cancer races with the board supervisors.  It’s a good idea ladies, to die your hair blonde, wear some snug leather skirts or jackets and occasionally show a little cleavage.  Look around at women who are now becoming vice principals or principals.  There are a few invisible women but most of them are only seen without makeup when it melts off their faces at the end of a race.

So women over 40 lose part of their value just by virtue of their age.  For some they are valued less because they are women.  Sure their education,  hard work and character are valued (by some) but for some people, they are valued less because they are teachers.  There are a number of reasons why teachers are automatically devalued.

People with the same education and years in as teachers figure that if the teachers were worth anything, they would be doing a job that pays more.  People with less education may resent authority figures.  And for some people the simple act of telling someone to do something is seen as bullying.  A woman asking their son to do something is even worse.  This is anecdotal, but my observations have been that mothers (and fathers) are most likely to come to the defence of their sons.

Most people underestimate the education, experience and skill it takes to run a classroom.  Because the 30 people in the room are children, it can’t be that difficult.  It’s really babysitting and that is … women’s work.  Many parents think they know better; I have had one lout, a director general, tell me in front of his son that the book he had chosen from the ones I had offered for study was boring,  The DG had found a book intended for a thirteen year old boring.  This man also presumed to tell me how to run my classroom.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements.

Woman teaching geometry, from Euclid's Elements. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Not Something of which I Want Reminding


My only comment now is that I have been here and I am deeply upset that this kind of thing continues to happen.  As a link to this CBC article will probably eventually disappear, I am going to copy the whole article here.

Falsely accused teacher calls for accountability

Accused of abusing students, teacher spent weeks under suspicion

By Kathy Tomlinson CBC News

Posted: Apr 23, 2012 2:08 AM PT

Last Updated: Apr 23, 2012 2:30 PM PT

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Teacher Susan Dowell was accused of abusing students after she challenged a boy for throwing out a banana at lunch.Teacher Susan Dowell was accused of abusing students after she challenged a boy for throwing out a banana at lunch. (CBC)
Kathy TomlinsonKathy Tomlinson

An Ontario substitute teacher who was cleared of abuse allegations is speaking out, suggesting that parents and students be held accountable for making false accusations.

“Something is terribly wrong here,” said Susan Dowell, who has taught school for 15 years. “Children who do make false allegations – parents who make false allegations – what happens to them in the end?”

The complaint against Dowell came after she told a grade five boy not to throw away an uneaten banana at lunch. Dowell was on lunch room duty, during a one-day teaching assignment at R.L. Graham elementary school, in Keswick, Ont.

“I told him to eat it…or put it back in his lunch box and take it home. His parents paid good money for fruit like that for him to eat,” said Dowell.

Dowell said the boy went home that night and complained, so one of his parents went to the school vice principal.

“The story that the parent heard and later told the administration…is that I had him go into the garbage to take out a squishy banana — eat garbage basically — and humiliated him in front of his friends.”

Dowell said the incident happened right after she had enforced classroom rules, for a group of unruly students – the boy’s friends – that morning.

“They came in with an attitude immediately…like they’re going to see how far they can go,” said Dowell. “I know enough, in a situation like this, I’m not going to get into a battle with students…so I asked them to go to the office immediately.”

Banana incident sparked investigation

The following week, while teaching at another school, she was suddenly sent home and told she was under investigation by Ontario’s Children’s Aid Society.

“I was just shocked and confused,” said Dowell. For over a week, she said, no one would tell her what she was accused of doing.

“For nine days. It feels like you’re waiting to find out a diagnosis with cancer. It’s crazy making…I was told not to speak to anyone.”

Dowell later learned that after the parent complained about the banana incident, the vice principal talked to the other students she taught that day. She said the group of unruly students she’d sent to the office had plenty of complaints.

Dowell was on a one-day teaching assignment at R.L. Graham Elementary School, when the incidents happened.Dowell was on a one-day teaching assignment at R.L. Graham Elementary School, when the incidents happened. (CBC)“Somehow all these children came up with all these incredible stories of how I had grabbed their wrists and I left red marks that apparently weren’t showing later,” said Dowell.

“Children are getting a lot more savvy these days. It used to be, ‘make the occasional [substitute] teacher cry.’ Now they know they can have you suspended.”

Without talking to Dowell, the school immediately called the Children’s Aid Society, which it is required to do by law, when there is an allegation of abuse.

“I thought I’d be treated as a professional colleague and I’d be given the benefit of the doubt and at least gotten a phone call afterwards to ask what had happened, from my perspective.”

Told to expect police

Dowell was removed from the board’s substitute teacher roster. Her union told her she might even be arrested.

“You are told police could come to your door any moment. What do you tell your family and friends? It’s a horrible situation to be in, knowing that you’re totally innocent,” said Dowell. “I knew I had never been alone with a child. I never put my hands on a child…but it felt like I was guilty until proven innocent.”

Dowell spent a month at home on partial pay, borrowing money to pay her bills, before the CAS concluded the allegation was unfounded.

The Children's Aid Society concluded the complaints against Dowell were unsubstantiated.The Children’s Aid Society concluded the complaints against Dowell were unsubstantiated.(CBC)“The Society…has determined that Ms. Dowell did not use excessive physical force with the students in her class or intentionally embarrass the student during her interactions with him in the lunchroom,” read a letter to Dowell’s lawyer from the York Region Children’s Aid Society.

“The Society is not substantiating any concerns related to the alleged use of physical force or public humiliation by Ms. Dowell, nor would the Society be concerned should Ms. Dowell return to her occasional teaching position.”

Dowell was then allowed to go back to work, but she still faces a probe by the school board, which is standard protocol when a complaint is made.

“These are separate investigations with different standards,” said Christina Choo-Hum of the York Regional School Board. “We have a much closer eye and more detailed approach to our investigation.”

Due diligence

When asked why a minor incident would lead to a full-blown investigation, Choo-Hum said, “If there is the slightest question [about a teacher] we err on the side of caution. It’s due diligence.”

Choo-Hum said no one from the school or the board would comment on Dowell’s case, because it’s a personnel matter. She said the board does not keep statistics on how many complaints against teachers it investigates, or what the outcome is.

Nadia Ciacci, president of the union representing 1800 occasional teachers in the York district, said she’s seen false complaints multiply every year, from none three years ago, to eight this school year. Ciacci said all were unfounded.

McGill University associate professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers and said accusers who lie should be held accountable.McGill University associate professor Jon Bradley has studied false accusations against teachers and said accusers who lie should be held accountable. (CBC)“It’s devastating for teachers,” said Ciacci, who said one has left the profession as a result. “It’s important to ensure the safety of students, of course, but also to ensure the safety of teachers. The message has to get out there – that this has to stop.”

Jon Bradley, associate professor of education at McGill University, has studied false allegations against teachers. He knows one case where the teacher committed suicide. He said careers and lives are ruined, particularly for men falsely accused of sex abuse.

“It’s really a mess,” he said. “We seem to be almost afraid. We seem to be saying – if a kid makes an accusation it must be true. Kids don’t lie. That’s the first thing we say – kids don’t lie.”

He cited one case that should have been suspect from the start, because of how the nine-year-old girl characterized what happened.

“She said ‘he leered at me suggestively.’ I don’t know how many grade four students would use an expression like that.”

No consequence for accusers

He said parents and children involved in false allegations don’t face any consequences, and they should.

“What’s really sad in this is we’ve got adolescents making terrible accusations against teachers and getting off scot-free with absolutely no penalty whatsoever,” said Bradley.

Ciacci of the teacher’s union said she would like to see parents held legally responsible, perhaps through an amendment to Ontario’s Parental Responsibility Act.

“Look at the cost to taxpayers as well for the Children’s Aid involvement,” she said. “Parents need to be held accountable.”

Dowell said the group of Grade 5 students misbehaved and challenged her in class, then claimed she had abused them.Dowell said the group of Grade 5 students misbehaved and challenged her in class, then claimed she had abused them.(CBC)Choo-Hum said there is no school board policy or standards for dealing with students who make false allegations.

“Students are dealt with on a case-by-case basis [at the school level],” said Choo-Hum.

Dowell said she is confident the board investigation will also find she did nothing wrong. Regardless, though, she said she will never feel the same in the classroom.

“The next time I see a kid throw out a banana I am obviously not going to say anything. And next time I see belligerent, defiant behaviour – am I to turn the other cheek?” said Dowell.

““I feel very much I am damned if I do I am damned if I don’t.”

Why Do Students Want to Take Down Teachers


Teachers

Teachers (Photo credit: iwannt)

In a recent post, I quoted words used in a search that ended up at my blog.  I listed eight incidents of which I had direct knowledge. In each one a teacher had been the target of an attempt to take him or her down.

The first question is why.  As you probably surmised from the list, most these students want to get back at the teacher.  Usually the student didn’t get the mark desired, sometimes the student was disciplined for misbehaving and sometimes there was a personality clash.  Occasionally a student was mentally ill but usually there is an element of revenge when students set out to take down a teacher.

The second reason is because she can.   Without believing she can take down a teacher, a student’s thoughts of revenge remain a daydream, a bitching session with a friend or some complaining over supper.  Thoughts of revenge dwindle over time and the student may come to terms with the source of annoyance.

When revenge is not a reasonable option, a student has an opportunity to learn better ways to deal with perceived unfairness. Perhaps she may acknowledge to herself that the mark or the discipline were earned even if the student thought they were a little excessive.  Perhaps she may talk to the teacher about what is bothering her.  Perhaps she may enlist her parents’ help in talking to the teacher.

However, in England, the USA and Canada, there are many cases that demonstrate students can take down teacher or at the very least, make their lives hell.  And they can do it with relative ease.  How do they have that power?  Why are children able to cause such havoc in the lives of hard working, caring, decent adults?

Initially students are believed when they make a charge of sexual assault or a vague form of harassment.  This is a hangover from the days when the standard belief was that children don’t lie.  This standard was a reaction to a long period when adults refused to believe children who claimed that apparently respectable adults were molesting them.

That refusal was understandable.  Even Freud, who had at first believed women when they described early traumas of molestation and incest, was persuaded by colleagues that the women must be making it up.

1. There is some controversy as to whether Freud did indeed change his mind.  Chief proponent of it seems to be J. M. Masson in his 1984 book, The Assault on Truth.  Freud’s Suppression of the Seduction Theory.

We now realise that if a child can lie about taking a chocolate bar or other things, she can lie about more serious things.  Most children have been brought up to understand how wrong it is to lie and very wrong to lie about serious things. Unfortunately, some children tell the truth, some exaggerate and some do lie.  And some lie deliberately to hurt other people.

Because of the climate of believing children on the subject of abuse, teachers and others are often perceived as guilty until proven innocent.  Whatever happens in the courts, in the disciplinary hearings run by their employers it becomes clear that the burden of proof is on the adult to prove herself not guilty.

All of this makes teachers an easy target.  At the very least they will suffer the pain of being removed from the class while the accusation is investigated.  What more they will suffer, I can only leave to your imagination.


A great post with good examples of what happens. Unfortunately things are rarely quite so black & white which makes it even more difficult.

issues in ontario education

Today I’m afraid to be a teacher.  We had a staff meeting this evening after school today.  OECTA (Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association) submitted a video for all of the schoolteachers on staff.  It was rough.  The above video gives you an idea of why.

The OECTA video we watched interviewed two teachers who were falsely accused of physical and sexual assault. One was a female teacher accused of … get ready … picking up an intermediate student (grades 7 – 8) and “whipping him across the classroom“. He alleged she picked him up and threw him.  She was suspended from her job until the ridiculous allegation was cleared some weeks later; the board had no choice in the matter. Not that the board cared in particular.

Another teacher in the movie who was cleared after a false sexual allegation was made against him, informed us that the board distanced itself…

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