Posts tagged expulsion

How educational institutions should respond to the riot

A week after the Stanley Cup game seven loss and the riot that followed, Vancouverites are thinking less about how our boys in blue were thumped by the Bruins and more about how our cityscape was bruised by the rioters.  In terms of our pride as a city, the game pulled the rug out from under us, but the riot flat out beat us senseless, prompting the inevitable soul-searching and finger-pointing that happens when any group is shocked by the depravity of some of its members.

The most interesting thing about the past week (and to think, it’s only been a week) was not the violence itself, the response from the police or city officials or the identities of the rioters.  Far and away, it has been the role of social media and, particularly, how the prevalence of cameras (primarily on cellphones) mixed with the unrestrained ability for anyone to reproduce pictures and videos at little or no cost has produced severe, and often legal, consequences for anyone mixed up in the riot.  (Paradoxically, as Kent-Daniel Glowinsky pointed out in yesterday’s Vancouver Sun, in the age of Facebook often the most damning evidence is offered up by the law-breakers themselves, foolishly unaware that they are signing their own criminal confessions.)

The most prominent example of those that have been crucified by social media is Nathan Kotylak (Globe and Mail), the 17 year-old water polo star from Maple Ridge who was caught on camera during the riot trying to blow up a police car.  Kotylak has apologized profusely.  The implications for him and his family have been dire: they have had to leave their home because of threats, and his father – a surgeon – has had his professional reputation tarnished.  Kotylak is just finished grade 12 at Meadowridge High School, though he did not attend his graduation ceremony (the Province).  He was suspended from Canada’s junior water polo squad and it’s unlikely his school has taken any steps in response.

Another student spotlighted by the media is Camille Cacnio (the Ubyssey), a biology student at the University of British Columbia.  She has not gone to the same extent as Kotylak to publicize her apology and regret (though, arguably, the crime she committed was not as obscene and she may simply have not been as appealing to news agencies), but similar issues will be plaguing her, perhaps even more so because of the racial element in much of the online chatter about her.  UBC officials have said pretty definitely that since the riot did not happen at UBC and there was no material connection to UBC, they will not be getting involved.

Employers (Vancouver Sun) have an important decision to make about how to treat employees involved with the riot.  A person who commits a crime should not necessarily be fired from their job unless there is some significant connection between the crime and the job or unless that sort of thing is covered by their employment agreement.  The decision for education institutions is far more complex: should they take any steps against students who participated in the riot?

There are a couple of factors to consider:

  1. Teenagers vs. Adult.  High schools should approach the riot differently than universities should.  Nowadays, a teenagers caught committing a crime during a highly publicized event will likely be getting it from all sides: their family and friends will probably be furious with them and feel the effects themselves; the riot will probably show whenever their name is googled for the next decade or so (unless they happen to do something even more noteworthy, good or bad);  they will have to explain themselves and apologize at interviews, etc. until they are old enough to have their own kids in high school… the list goes on.  University students will probably go through the same, with even greater concern for their professional opportunities, but the chatter will likely affect teenagers in a more acute way because their identities and self-esteem may be more brittle.  High schools are probably best served by using the riot as an educational opportunity, and they should keep in mind that the reactions (or over-reactions, as the case may be) to a crime can be more damaging than the crime itself.  Of course, if they think it’s appropriate to take disciplinary steps against a student, they should keep in mind the legal implications of doing that.
  2. The Campus Connection.  UBC officials hit the nail on the head by emphasizing that offenders are being pursued, students and non-students alike, and since there appears to be no material campus connection there is nothing that the university itself should do.  Educational institutions are not parents.  A student has many identities, and in this case the fact that a rioter also took classes at a certain school may be incidental to what happened.   Schools and universities are concerned, but it’s not their problem any more than it is the problem of other local institutions and businesses.   Students can get arrested or have criminal records, but as long as it is unrelated to their role as a student there is generally no need for the school to intervene.   The question may get more complex if unique facts are involved, such as if university property located downtown (I am thinking of buildings belonging to UBC or Simon Fraser University) was damaged during the riot by students of those universities or if one student hurt another, and so on.

Teachers or professors rioting is a whole other ballgame, and in that case the factors to consider are more employment-related than anything else.

There are many lessons, legal and otherwise, that we can all take from the riot depending on our roles in society and our connection to the city.  Above all, it’s not only about the law.  What will prevent the next riot from happening, and accomplish the most to address the fallout from this one, will come from our internal sense of community or parental obligations and how they should be applied in these and similar circumstances.

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The wrong way to expel a student

One of the most important lessons in life is that how you do something can be just as, if not more, important than what you do.  Using an illegitimate process, particularly if you are in a position of power, can negate any benefits of a decision, no matter how wise or noble that decision may be. 

This lesson was brought home to a school principal earlier this month across the provincial border in the decision of the Honourable Mr. Justice Macleod of the Court of Queen’s Bench in J.O. v. Strathcona-Tweedsmuir School (CanLII).  The facts of the case are nearly as interesting as the reasoning behind the outcome.  J. was a student at a well-known independent school in the Calgary area with an excellent reputation (the judge characterized it as a “high-end private school”).  She was a reasonably good student but was struggling with her studies in grade 11.  Then her real troubles began. 

The school’s annual Christmas formal dance for students in grades 10, 11 and 12 was planned for December 11, 2006 at the Calgary Golf and Country Club.  J. and her 15 year-old boyfriend P. attended a pre-dance party at a student’s home.  The parents of the hosting student arranged for a limousine to drive the students from the party to the dance, during which time J. had some drinks.  Shortly after arriving at the dance, J. felt nauseous and thought she was going to be sick.  She asked P. to help her and wanted him to join her in the ladies washroom, where students kept coming in and out.  During that time, a woman at the club noticed that the door to the ladies washroom was closed.  When we opened it, she claimed she saw J. and P. doing something inappropriate.  Another member of their group – Mrs. Lougheed (a very prominent member of the community) – went straight to one of the teacher chaperones and told him a young couple was in the washroom “going at it”.

The next morning the school principal called Mrs. Lougheed, who described to the principal what she had seen in the washroom.  The clear implication of her description was that the two students were having sex.  The principal apologized for the incident and assured her he would severely discipline the students involved.  The next day he spoke with J.  He explained what had been reported about her.  She asserted they her and P. definitely not having sex.  The principal told her this was a serious issue; she should not to come school the next day and there would be a meeting with her parents.  The principal never gave J. the name of the witness he spoke to.

The principal was clearly concerned about the reputation of the school and concluded that J. simply confirmed her and P. were engaged in inappropriate behavior, whether or not they were actually having sex.  Two students approached the school guidance counsellor to explain what they had seen in support of J.’s version of events, but the principal (who was told of this testimony) never followed up with the students.  Instead, the principal met with two other senior administrators within the school and concluded that J. should be expelled, but J.’s parents should be given the option of having her withdraw.  The decision to expel J. was presented to J.’s parents as a done deal the next day at their meeting.  J.’s parents were furious and the meeting unravelled.  J. never returned to the school but no formal expulsion was issued.

The court in this case was confronted with the following central issue: whether the school, in investigating and responding to J.’s conduct, had a duty of fairness and, if so, whether it fulfilled that duty.  Fundamentally, this is about abiding by a contract.  J.’s parents had a contract with the school for J. to receive instruction.  An implied term of that contract was to treat J. fairly and thus the court quickly confirmed the school owed J. a duty of fairness but focused primarily on what standard was imposed on the school by that duty. 

The court maintained that the content of the duty of fairness depends on the circumstances of each case.  Relevant factors include:

  1. the nature of the decision being made and the process followed in making it;
  2. the importance of the decision to the individual(s) affected; and
  3. the legitimate expectations of the person challenging the decision.

Several other factors were cited by the court, but even that list was determined to be non-exhaustive.  Essentially, the underlying value is that the individual affected should have the opportunity to present their case fully and fairly, and decisions affecting their rights should be made using a fair, impartial and open process, given the context of the decision.

The court acknowledged that schools are not courtrooms and these sorts of decisions should not invite the same standard of due process.  The court referred to an excerpt from Schools and Students: Legal Aspects of Administration (Toronto: Carswell, 1998) by W.H. Giles, which was quoted in Gianfrancesco v. Junior Academy Inc.:

It is evident to any intelligent teacher or principal that the strict application of Re Gault would be perversion. Of course, natural justice must apply in the schools, but to turn them into judicial circuses would encourage disrespect for both the schools and the courts… In fact, the schools would have to close, and close permanently, for there would be no time to teach and no point in teaching, since discipline delayed is discipline destroyed. In fact, federal courts often minimize the adherence to procedural rights of people charged with misconduct.

In any event, the court utimately sided with J. and found that the school failed to satisfy its duty of fairness.  There were several factors that weighed heavily on the court’s decision: 

  1. The school had violated section 21 of the Private School Regulation (CanLII), requiring the school to have written rules dealing with suspension or expulsion of students.  As well, the regulation specifically required the school to adhere to principles of fundamental justice.
  2. J.’s education was clearly of considerable importance to her and her parents, and they had a legitimate expectation that J.’s conduct at the dance would be dealt with seriously.
  3. No one at the school took the time to consider J.’s side of the story.  She was not given notice of the case against her and had no opportunity to respond to it.
  4. The person that told the principal J. and P. were “going at it” did not testify at trial and nothing the school’s other witnesses said contradicted J.’s assertion that her and P. were definitely not having sex.

Macleod J. issued a strong condemnation of the school’s decision, saying it smacked of “a rush to judgment”, was a “miscarriage of justice” and “no fair-minded person who had heard the evidence I heard could have concluded that expulsion was fair”.  The school’s administrators appeared to be motivated to protect the school’s reputation and sacrificed J. in the process:

[Schools] have considerable latitude in disciplining students. However, expulsion is rightly characterized as the ultimate punishment a school can mete out and both students and parents reasonably may expect that such a drastic punishment will not be imposed arbitrarily. Even serious infractions of [the school's] rules did not necessarily give rise to expulsion. Another student who was caught drinking at the same dance was stripped of his prefecture and placed on probation, but was not expelled. Had the school made a more thorough investigation and taken into consideration the accounts of all witnesses, it is extremely unlikely J. would have been expelled… [The] school may have the right to be wrong, but it must be fair.

Expulsion appeals have become increasingly in common in other Canadian jurisdictions, and legislatures have moved to direct those appeals to administrative bodies to avoid a direct recourse of parents and students to the regular court system.  For example, with respect to public schools, the student discipline provisions of the Ontario Education Act and regulations were amended in 2008 to include additional factors a school board must consider when enforcing an expulsion, appeals of which will be heard by the Child and Family Services Review Board (CFSRB).  These amendments provide school boards with the authority to consider the student’s conduct outside of school.  In J.G. v. Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board (CanLII), the CFSRB quashed a school board’s decision to expel a student for smoking marijuana off school premises and sharing it with his friends.  The school board held a hearing on the matter and accepted the recommendation of the school principal that the student be expelled.  The student was informed of the decision without any reasons for the decision.  The CFSRB’s ruling against the school board was upheld by the Ontario Divisional Court.

In British Columbia, a school board’s power to expel a student is set out in section 85(3) (BCLaws) of the School Act:

Despite any other provision of this Act, a board may refuse to offer an educational program to a student 16 years of age or older if that student

(a) has refused to comply with the code of conduct, other rules and policies referred to in section 6, or

(b) has failed to apply himself or herself to his or her studies.

Parents and students who want to appeal an expulsion decision made by a board employee can appeal to the board; if they are unsatisfied, they can appeal further to the Superintendent of Achievement under section 11.1 (BCLaws).  This latter appeal process is maintained by the Student Appeals Branch of the Ministry of Education.  The Appeals Regulation (Ministry of Education) clearly sets out under section 2(2)(a) that an expulsion is an eligible ground for this secondary appeal.  Here is a pamphlet about the Student Appeals Branch with useful information.

The Independent School Act does not appear to include similar provisions or regulations with respect to independent schools, but the Federation of Independent School Associations has put out a helpful guide for schools, parents and students with respect to procedural fairness, which has been posted on the website of the Ministry of Education.

An expulsion may have serious consequences on a student.  Principals and school board should only reach such a decision cautiously and with considerable justification.  Hearsay should not be relied on.  There should be a good faith opportunity for the student to be heard.  Students subject to an expulsion or suspension should insist upon procedural fairness within the sort of reasonable limits discussed above.

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