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March 1, 2001

Female teacher admits crossing line but says she did not have sex with boy

E-mails relate to sexual relationship, hearing told

Moira MacDonald
National Post

(Annie Mary) Markson

TORONTO - A female supply teacher admits she crossed a professional boundary in her relationship with a 14-year-old student when she sent the boy notes and met with him outside of school time, her lawyer told a disciplinary panel yesterday.

But there is no evidence to show that Annie Mary Markson, 33, had sex with the teen or did anything else inappropriate, lawyer Bill Markle told a panel of the Ontario College of Teachers while making his final arguments in the three-day hearing.

"I submit to you ... that however you classify abuse, none exists."

Ms. Markson is accused of professional misconduct for meeting with the then Grade 8 student, talking with him on the telephone and sending him suggestive letters and e-mails in the spring and summer of 1998.

The student cannot be identified.

If found guilty, Ms. Markson could face sanctions including fines, licence suspension and loss of her teaching certificate. A decision will likely be made this morning

A police investigation of the case was concluded in February, 1999. No charges were laid.

While he conceded there was no evidence of actual sex or face-to-face discussion about it between the pair, Tom Forbes, the college's lawyer, said the several suggestive notes and e-mails the two sent to each other constituted a sexual relationship.

In a July 2 e-mail to the teacher, the boy wrote about "three spots [that] are able to be touched by your loving hands. I'll probably have a slight erection ... I think I want to touch your breasts, butt, and ... um ... I don't know."

A subsequent July 20 e-mail written by Ms. Markson to the student read, "a)you are sexy, b) you are hot, c) you have sexy biceps."

In another dated the same day she told the boy, "I love you ... I miss you ... I need you ... Good night sweetie ... I'll be thinking and dreaming of you as always."

Mr. Forbes said the student during his testimony had tried "to protect" Ms Markson by saying there was no other physical activity between them other than hugs and the boy's light kisses on the teacher's cheek.

But the fact the teacher already knew the boy had a crush on her, as the panel heard in witness testimony this week, should have been "a wake-up call" to her.

Their written communication "particularly the sexual aspect is really a sexual communication. [Its] characteristics of that communication relate to a sexual relationship," Mr. Forbes said.

Besides, he added, it is "a little late in the game" for Ms. Markson to concede she crossed the line.

"That boundary violation was recognized in June, 1998, and consciously pursued," Mr. Forbes said. Ms. Markson "fed [the boy's] dreams. She fed an adolescent sexual dreams."

Other actions by Ms. Markson, such as sending the student a pass to Canada's Wonderland amusement park in a thank-you card and asking him to stay long after school hours to help her on the computer, were similar to "grooming behaviours" described in a landmark report on the sexual abuse of students in Ontario schools released last year by retired judge Sydney L. Robins.

Those behaviours include efforts to "form a special relationship," which are often part of an "engagement phase" in sex abuse cases, said Mr. Forbes, quoting the Robins report.

No matter the outcome of the hearing, teachers have been put on notice they must be "extremely careful about what kind of a personal or friendship relationship you have with a student," Mr. Markle, a long-time legal defender of teachers, told reporters outside the hearing room.

"I'm not here suggesting that there shouldn't be a sensitivity to these issues," Mr. Markle said. "But I'm very concerned about the overkill."

Ms. Markson is still teaching, he said and was deemed an excellent teacher in a June, 1998, evaluation. However, the York Catholic District School Board, where Ms. Markson was working at the time of the allegations, said she no longer works for them.

Mr. Markle added the media attention surrounding it has had "a devastating impact on her."

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