Halton teacher controversy sparks demand for revision of professional standards
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has asked the Ontario College of Teachers to review and “consider strengthening” professional standards in light of the controversy over a trans high school teacher at Oakville who wears oversized breast forms with protruding nipples.
Halton’s board is also conducting a review of its dress code.
The situation at Oakville Trafalgar High School has made international headlines, sparking protests outside the school and even a bomb threat after photos of the store teacher in a tight top emerged online and went viral just over a week ago.
Halton Police have been stationed at the school and will remain there as long as necessary to “ensure public safety”, a police spokesperson said on Monday, adding that officers were investigating allegations of threats made against the school staff. So far, there have been no arrests in connection with the alleged threats or protests.
On Friday, Lecce wrote to the college of teachers, the profession’s watchdog, asking for a review.
“In this province, in our schools, we celebrate our differences,” he told reporters at Queen’s Park. “We also believe that there must be the highest standards of professionalism for our children, and based on this, I have asked the Ontario College of Teachers to review and consider strengthen these professional conduct provisions, which we believe would be in the best interests of all children in Ontario.
College spokeswoman Gabrielle Barkany said in a statement to The Star that “we have received the minister’s request and our response will be communicated to him when it is ready.”
Barkany will not provide any details about the exam, nor will it disclose whether the college has received any complaints about the teacher’s attire.
Sources, however, say the exam could include some sort of standard dress code – which prohibits Halton students from any clothing that leaves nipples visible – or a tightening of ethical standards which currently state that teachers must “defend the honor and dignity of the teaching profession.”
Under teacher malpractice regulations, there is nothing specific about dress codes. However, teachers must “maintain the standards of the profession” and not act in a “discreditable or unprofessional” manner.
They can also be found guilty of professional misconduct for “conduct unbecoming a member”.
The Halton District School Board would not comment specifically on Lecce’s request, but Director of Education Curtis Ennis said the board “continues to handle this matter in a manner that remains true to our values and our commitment to human rights, respects the privacy and dignity of our students and staff, and with the safety and well-being of students and staff as our highest priority.
In an email to the Star, Ennis said “as staff we are guided by a lot of legislation and also fundamentally by the privacy and confidentiality of each of our employees. While I understand the public’s desire for information, we will not and cannot publicly discuss any matter that identifies our staff directly or indirectly. I hope the public will understand the parameters that guide us.
At a September 21 board meeting, administrator Tracey Ehl Harrison spoke of the widespread attention this matter has received from Halton and beyond, adding that she reads “every email.” .
“Some of them have been quite nasty, coming from groups far beyond Canada’s borders, described as hate groups,” she said. “It’s been an interesting time, to say the least.”
She said in her role ‘it’s important to hear and try to understand what people are asking’ which is why she put forward a motion calling for the director to return to the board by the end of November with “a report dealing with the various considerations regarding dress codes.
The motion passed unanimously.
Halton’s student dress code states that “Dress codes shall prevent students from wearing clothing that exposes or makes visible the genitals and nipples.”
The board said it is “committed to establishing and maintaining a safe, caring, inclusive, equitable and welcoming learning and working environment for all students and staff.” He also noted that “gender identity and expression are protected grounds under the Ontario Human Rights Code.”
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