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October 13, 2000

Teacher on abuse registry still in class

Woman wrote 64 romantic, sexual notes to boy aged 13

Christie Blatchford
National Post


Ian McInroy, Barrie Examiner
Parents of youngsters at Holly Meadows Elementary School in Barrie, are protesting the reinstatement of teacher Laura Glen Sclater.

On the telephone, the young mother dropped her voice to a whisper.

"He's here," she said of her five-year-old son, Christopher, who was underfoot.

"How do I tell him there's a B-A-D teacher?"

In this brief, sad exchange yesterday with Leslie Horn, is told the astonishing story of the crisis at Holly Meadows Elementary School in Barrie, where the parents of 750 students are still struggling to come to grips with the unbelievable: One of the teachers at their brand-new school is listed on the provincial child-abuse registry because of her sexually charged relationship with one -- and there are hints of perhaps even two -- of the boys in a previous class.

"How," Mrs. Horn asked wearily, "can you teach your child to go to teachers for help, when the teacher is the one who needs help?"

The 30-year-old woman named Laura Glen Sclater who is at the centre of this storm doesn't actually teach Christopher Horn, who is in kindergarten; Mrs. Sclater now teaches a class of Grade 3 students.

But her troubled past and the secrecy surrounding her reinstatement last summer after a lengthy suspension has affected the entire school, which just opened last month, and at least two parents whose children were in Mrs. Sclater's room this fall have pulled their youngsters out of Holly Meadows and enrolled them elsewhere.

Brad and Susan Lumbers have found a new school for their eight-year-old, Laura, who learned about Mrs. Sclater from a local TV newscast and tentatively asked her mother, "It's not good news, is it?" Her mom replied gently, "Well no, honey, it's not." As she told the National Post yesterday, "This [Mrs. Sclater] is the kind of person you warn your child about."

And Christine Campbell's seven-year-old son, Jordan, also started at his new school yesterday, about three weeks after he approached his mother and said, "Mom, that's my teacher on the news," and in the next breath asked, "What are sex letters?" The Campbells fought unsuccessfully to have Jordan transferred to another Grade 3 class at Holly Meadows, but the school and the Simcoe County Board of Education flatly refused.

"I just didn't feel comfortable with her," Mrs. Campbell said yesterday. "She shouldn't be teaching. I don't need my children to be taught by a woman who herself needs a babysitter."

Indeed, that's pretty much true -- under a series of conditions set out by the governing Ontario College of Teachers, Mrs. Sclater must report every two weeks to a so-called mentor appointed by the college to counsel her.

And notwithstanding the board's assertions that things are pretty much back to normal at the school, furious parents in the new subdivision where Holly Meadows is located have banded together, formed a group (called the Simcoe County Association for Responsible Education, or SCARE), demanded a hearing at the board's regular meeting later this month, and are now in the midst of producing a petition and posters seeking more support.

The parents are stunned that after the tumultuous last month, Mrs. Sclater's own acknowledged wrongdoing, and the massive publicity the entire case has generated, she is still indisputably there, in the school that many of them, and their children, excitedly watched rise from the ground.

As Mrs. Horn said yesterday, "What we really can't believe is just how powerless we are."

How it came to this -- that families came to be in essence streetproofing their young children against a person in a position of trust; that youngsters should be preoccupied with vigilance instead of "trading Pokémon cards," as protest organizer Laura Armitage put it yesterday -- began in February of 1998.

Mrs. Sclater, a York University graduate, was then teaching a combined class of Grade 7s and Grade 8s at another Simcoe County school, Goodfellow Public School -- her fifth year there.

According to documents filed with the Ontario divisional court, in February of that year, she began writing notes -- 64 of them in total, generally described by two experts as having "both romantic and sexual innuendo" -- to a 13-year-old boy identified only as "R," and the two developed a relationship outside the classroom.

In one excerpt that became part of the public record in court, Mrs. Sclater wrote, "There can never be another honey for me. 'J' last year and you this year? It doesn't get any better." It is this reference to the boy J, and another in which she wrote, "I miss J, but I miss you more," which suggest that her relationship with R may not have been her first improper one.

Other excerpts show her signing off with, "Love, your woman," calling R "a big stud" and "Big sweety" and herself his "hottie," and are replete with giddy talk of an upcoming field trip to Ottawa, where, she said, "I trust you to keep your hands where they belong" and joked that if she fell asleep on the bus, "The Ottawa police might have to dust me for prints!!! ... If I go swimming," she teased, "I have decided to wear an undershirt over my bathing suit, so relax, please!!!!"

The letters were discovered by the boy's mother in April of 1998. She promptly called the Simcoe County Children's Aid Society, which investigated and produced a damning report recommending, among other things, that Mrs. Sclater "not be allowed direct duties that involve children" and seek a psychiatric assessment "of her maturation and emotional state." It is also this agency that reported Mrs. Sclater to the provincial child-abuse register.

As a result of this report, Mrs. Sclater was suspended without pay by the board on Sept. 1, 1998.

At first, the board insisted she adhere to the Children's Aid Society recommendation, but later changed its position -- by this stage, Mrs. Sclater was being ably represented by a lawyer appointed and paid for by her union, the now-defunct Federation of Women Teachers Association of Ontario -- and referred the case not to a discipline committee, but rather to a fitness-to-practise committee.

In September of last year, over three days of meetings, the three-member, all-female committee accepted an "agreed statement of facts" approved by lawyers for both parties, Mrs. Sclater and the Simcoe board -- this, essentially, meant a plea bargain was reached going into the hearing.

Among the agreed-upon evidence accepted as fact were reports from Dr. Peter Collins, a forensic psychiatrist with the Ontario Provincial Police, who pronounced Mrs. Sclater's behaviour with the boy "a serious boundary violation," and another that said teachers who breach such boundaries either tend to have psychological problems or emotional needs and are "likely to repeat the behaviour" and concluded that "students are potentially at risk should she continue in a teaching role."

But, in accepting the plea arrangement, the committee agreed that Mrs. Sclater was "incapacitated" and was suffering from "a mental condition" -- defined by psychiatrist Dr. Hy Bloom as one "born of naďveté, some measure of psychological and emotional immaturity and poor judgment."

In other words, though Mrs. Sclater was found to have behaved, at best, with gross immaturity and with carelessness about the impact on the boy R., that immaturity and attitude were, remarkably, also somehow deemed to be the mental condition that rendered her incapacitated.

On Oct. 20 last year, the committee ordered her suspended until she had completed at least 20 sessions with an approved therapist -- more than the number of sessions the lawyers recommended -- and was reassessed by Dr. Bloom.

Arguing the additional sessions were unfair, Mrs. Sclater and her lawyer, David Matheson, appealed this decision to the divisional court, where, in February of this year, a three-member panel upheld the original committee recommendation.

It is because of this court hearing that any of the documents and notes became public.

But in July of this year, Mrs. Sclater was back before the same fitness committee, and on July 14, was duly reinstated.

And all that is publicly available about this proceeding are the conditions the committee imposed upon her reinstatement -- that she be restricted to teaching younger children, apparently on the grounds they will be less likely to pique her improper interest; that she can't even supervise the older students at Holly Meadow unless another adult is present; that she regularly consult the mentor; that she not communicate to any students by e-mail or write any notes not directly related to a student's work, and that her supervising principal report on her three times during the school year to the board.

As Mrs. Armitage said, because she's on the abuse register, Mrs. Sclater likely wouldn't be an acceptable Block Parent or daycare provider and she can't supervise Mrs. Armitage's five-year-old at lunch or in the playground at recess, but she's allowed to teach.

"How can they say she's been rehabilitated? If she's fine back in the classroom, then why not remove the restrictions on her and let her go back to Grade 8s? She doesn't teach my son, but he's in the classroom right next door, and I can't tell him to go to her if he needs help. And I resent the fact that I had to tell him anything, that I have had to put this in his mind. He should never have to look at a teacher like this."

The rationale for Mrs. Sclater's reinstatement -- the psychiatric reassessment and reports from the therapist she saw -- are considered confidential, Denys Giguere, spokesman for the College of Teachers, confirmed yesterday.

Mr. Matheson, Mrs. Sclater's lawyer, wouldn't make any comment yesterday, and though he promised to pass on a message to his client, he said she had declined such media requests before, and indeed, Mrs. Sclater couldn't be reached.

And even when she was ostensibly available, at an emergency meeting called last month to settle down the parents of children in her class, Mrs. Sclater was accompanied by Mr. Matheson. She made only a brief statement, and deferred to him on more pointed questions.

As Mrs. Horn noted, the current edition of the school bulletin, the Holly Meadows Herald, proudly trumpets on its front page the importance of communication. "Communication! Communication!" the headline blares.

How good is that, Mrs. Horn wondered aloud, "when the teacher isn't allowed to talk unless her lawyer is there?"

Christie Blatchford can be contacted at cblatchford@nationalpost.com

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