Nova Scotia says record-check procedures for teachers under review after alleged assault

Nova Scotia’s education minister says record-check procedures at the province’s schools are under review after a Halifax-area English teacher was placed on administrative leave in connection with an alleged altercation inside a classroom at Cole Harbour District High School.

Derek Stephenson, 42, was arrested last week and is facing assault charges in relation to the incident.

Court documents reveal the 42-year-old has a criminal history involving numerous charges on three separate occasions.

Education Minister Zach Churchill has called the revelations “disturbing.”

In a statement, Churchill said that safety of students is the first priority.

“Our department has taken immediate action to work with [Regional Centres for Education] and [Conseil scolaire acadien provincial] to review and assess the policies and procedures currently in place and to provide me with recommendations to improve them.”

Currently, teachers are only required to submit a criminal-record check and vulnerable-sector check upon hire.

Paul Wozney, president of the Nova Scotia Teachers Union says, “Teachers are required to report to the Director of Human Resources if they are ‘subject to an investigation or conviction under the criminal code.”

In a statement, Wozney said the union is “happy to engage with RCEs and the Department of Education to ensure effective policies and practices are in place.”

But the current process is raising concern among some parents who are questioning why they are not alerted about a teacher’s criminal history.

@Alicia_Draus In this day and age, parents should always be kept informed of issues such as this one. My daughter i… twitter.com/i/web/status/1…

In Ontario, the College of Teachers is responsible for making sure people are qualified and competent to teach and care for students.

“If there’s something that’s going to affect their ability as a professional to do that, then we want to be aware of that,” said Brian Jamieson with the college.

After a complaint is made, teachers can defend themselves at a hearing. The college will then decide on disciplinary action which can include revoking a teacher’s licence. All results of hearings are posted online and are available to the public.

Earlier this year, consultant Avis Glaze recommended Nova Scotia adopt a similar program. In her report, she wrote a college of teachers would help “to improve public confidence in the education system across the province.”

The recommendation was not supported by the teachers’ union and ultimately not adopted by the government.

Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan are the only provinces to have such programs, and make information about teacher misconduct available to the public.

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