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EDITORIAL: A right to know

School hallway with student lockers.
School hallway with student lockers. - The Guardian

If a staff member at your child’s school was accused or convicted of a criminal offence, would you want to know?

Your answer is probably a no-brainer, but it doesn’t seem to be so for P.E.I.’s Education Department or the Public Schools Branch.

In the provincial legislature this week, Opposition MLA Steven Myers put concerns to Education Minister Jordan Brown about two recent legal cases involving former Stonepark Intermediate vice-principal Greg Campbell and Colonel Gray Senior High music teacher Roger Jabbour. Campbell was convicted of criminal harassment, while Jabbour currently faces multiple charges of sexual assault and sexual interference.

At issue is how and when parents and students are informed of these cases.

In his question to Brown, Myers indicated some parents only learned about charges laid against a teacher in their child’s school after they were reported in the media.

For his part, Brown said there is a “balancing act” that must take place because “there is a presumption of innocence when charges are laid.”

While he’s correct, Brown’s answer dodged the gist of Myers’ question as artfully as we’ve come to expect of our politicians.

In Jabbour’s case, the Public Schools Branch was made aware of the allegations on June 16 of this year, and the teacher was later placed on administrative leave. But neither police nor the school informed parents that a teacher was being investigated. Instead, Myers said, parents were told Jabbour was on medical leave with a sore back.

That is a problem.

Back pain or not, the Public Schools Branch and the Education Department are lying to parents and students by omitting the criminal allegations. 

And it’s not as if this is an isolated occurrence of the province failing to inform parents, students and the public about criminal cases involving staff.

In Campbell’s case, The Guardian never received confirmation from the province or school board that he was on leave and subsequently no longer employed at Stonepark. The same was true about former Bluefield High School youth worker Arthur McGuigan, who in 2014 was sentenced to five years in prison for offences that included providing drugs to students in exchange for sex. Same story with 31-year-old bus driver Stephen William MacLeod, who was convicted of sexual offences against one of his 15-year-old passengers. In each of these cases, education officials did not to comment as to the staff members’ status, at least initially.

This shielding of staff could actually hinder police investigations. If students and parents were aware of criminal charges from the outset, some may be able to offer additional information, whether it’s favourable or unfavourable for the accused.

The Education minister and his department need to have a serious look at these policies and ask themselves the same question we posed from the outset: wouldn’t they want to know if it was someone in a position of trust over their own children?

We’re not suggesting P.E.I.’s school system is riddled with criminals. We’re saying that, if it was, parents and students have a right to hear about it from their education officials.

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