Frequently Asked Questions
What will Happen if I am Reported to the OCT?
When an allegation of professional misconduct is made against a teacher, it typically comes from another teacher or staff member, or from a student and/or their family. Often, when an allegation is brought forward, the school board will launch an investigation of their own into the matter, sometimes before reporting it to the College. Once the allegation makes it to the College, the College’s Investigation Committee will screen it to determine whether the complaint is valid and should be investigated further. If they are of the opinion that an investigation should occur, the member will be notified, and an investigator will be appointed to the file. Unless the complaint is clearly vexatious, the Committee will likely investigate.
The investigator will then begin their investigation which will include collecting all relevant evidence. If the school board did an independent investigation, the results of that investigation will often be used by the College as evidence. The investigator may also interview witnesses including the accused teacher and the complainant or alleged victim. Once the investigation is complete, the Investigation Committee will review the file and decide to issue a penalty or refer the matter to the Discipline Committee or Fitness Committee for further review.
What is an Interim Suspension?
When a teacher is accused of certain misconduct, the College may make an interim order directing the Registrar to suspend or impose terms on the teacher’s certificate of registration pending the outcome of the investigation. Interim suspensions may be ordered where there is concern that the teacher poses a risk to students. Once a file is received, the Investigation Committee will review it and determine whether it should be referred to the Adjudicative Body of Chairs for review. Interim suspensions are more common in cases involving sexual misconduct, certain personal boundary violations, and physical or psychological abuse.
The Ontario College of Teachers Act stipulates that the Adjudicative Body of Chairs have the authority to make the order where they are of the opinion that the teacher’s conduct exposes or is likely to expose a student to injury or harm of any kind. Prior to making the order, the Adjudicative Body of Chairs will send a notice to the teacher letting them know an interim suspension is being considered.
The teacher has the right to provide written submissions to the Adjudicative Body of Chairs and must be given at least 14 days to do so. It is possible, in some cases, for the Adjudicative Body of Chairs to suspend the teacher before the teacher has been given a chance to provide submissions if they are of the opinion that a delay would risk harm to a student. Essentially, in serious cases, the Adjudicative Body of Chairs can order an interim suspension unilaterally without input from the impugned teacher. An interim suspension will remain in effect until the matter has resolved, or the College orders otherwise.
What Happens at a Discipline Hearing?
A discipline hearing is a formal court process with the OCT to determine whether the accused teacher is guilty of professional misconduct. The Committee will listen to evidence about the case before making a decision. In some cases, a discipline hearing is necessary, but not always.
Once the file is referred to the Committee, they will review the file and determine their position on penalty. Penalties can range from an oral caution or admonishment to the revocation of the teacher’s license. The teacher will be presented with the potential penalty and then may either accept it, negotiate for a lower penalty, or schedule a discipline hearing. Where the teacher wishes to accept the penalty, legal counsel can negotiate the facts to be admitted with counsel for the Committee. The lawyers can draft what is known as an Agreed Statement of Facts, which will outline the alleged incident that the teacher is accepting responsibility for.
If the teacher does not agree to the initial proposed penalty, they may negotiate through counsel for a lower penalty. The Discipline Committee will then determine whether or not they will agree to a lower penalty. Where the parties cannot come to an agreement about penalty, or about the facts of the case, a discipline hearing is necessary.
A discipline hearing is essentially a trial, similar to in criminal court. It is a formal process where evidence will be presented to the Committee. Witnesses may be called to testify. Both the College and the Member will have an opportunity at the hearing to present evidence and/or call witnesses to make their case. At the end of the hearing, the Committee will determine whether the teacher is guilty as alleged, and if so, what the appropriate penalty will be.
What Potential Penalties do Teachers Face for Misconduct?
When a matter is before the Investigation Committee (prior to being referred to discipline), and the Committee has concerns with the teacher’s practice, they have several options. They may choose to provide advice to the teacher on how to avoid a similar situation in the future, they may caution or admonish the teacher, they may require the teacher to complete a remedial education program, or they may refer the matter to the Discipline Committee or the Fitness to Practice Committee.
Once a matter is referred to the Discipline Committee, they will determine if the member is guilty of misconduct, and if so, the appropriate penalty. The Committee has several options in terms of penalty, depending on the nature and severity of the misconduct. The Committee may revoke the member’s certificate, prohibiting them from practicing indefinitely or for a fixed period of time. Revocation is reserved for the most serious cases. The Committee may also decide to suspend the member’s certificate for up for two years, or place other limitations on the member’s certificate. Additionally, the Committee may fine the member up to $5,000, require the member to be cautioned or admonished, order the member to pay costs to the College, or order the member to reimburse the College for the cost of the complainant’s counselling where the professional misconduct involved sexual abuse.
Can I Appeal the Discipline Committee’s Decision?
Yes. Once the Discipline Committee has issued their decision in a case, both the College and the accused teacher have the right to appeal. This appeal is known as a judicial review and involves having the Committee’s decision reviewed by a judge in court. Judicial reviews are carried out in Divisional Court. The presiding Divisional Court judge will review the file and then determine whether the decision of the Committee was fair, reasonable, and lawful. If the court is of the opinion that the decision was not fair, reasonable, or lawful, they can either overturn the decision and substitute it with a decision of their own, or they can send the case back down to the Discipline Committee to be reheard. If the court is of the opinion that the Discipline Committee’s decision was fair, reasonable, and lawful, they will affirm the decision, and the Committee’s decision will stand.