National Post

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Teacher's husband considered notes a joke

Alleged sexual misconduct

Jon Bricker
National Post

National Post
Laura Sclater was a talented, sensitive teacher, Paul Lindros, principal at her school, told the court yesterday.

BARRIE - Stephen Sclater saw nothing unusual about his wife's relationship with a 13-year-old student or notes she wrote to the boy in which she called him a "big stud," a "hottie," or signed "I love you," a court heard yesterday.

Taking the stand at the start of the fourth week of Laura Sclater's trial, Mr. Sclater said that since he taught at the same school as his wife, and knew the boy well from having coached him in football, he knew all about how close the pair had become in 1998.

Still, he did not raise alarm bells or tell his wife she was acting inappropriately because he was certain it was all a big joke, he said.

"It was really unharmful," said Mr. Sclater, 34. "Everyone that was involved knew it was a joke."

He said he has been forced to think otherwise, however, by a four-year ordeal that has seen his wife suspended from teaching and charged with sexual assault, sexual interference and invitation to sexual touching. He said the ordeal has been a nightmare.

Mr. Sclater said he showed "immaturity" by not handling the situation differently.

"Now, I can see the harm in it, but at the time, I didn't," he said. "We've both learned."

In addition to the notes, it is alleged Mrs. Sclater, now 31, and the boy held hands at school and sat on each other's laps. She also allegedly dressed inappropriately during pick-up basketball games then pressed her body against his while pretending to block him. It is also alleged she kissed him on the lips on one occasion and, on another, invited him to sit beside her on the bus and touch her if she fell asleep during a class trip to Ottawa.

Despite the allegations, Mr. Sclater said, he remains "very much in love" with his wife of seven years.

He said both of them were extremely happy with their marriage in 1998, when Mrs. Sclater's relationship with the student is said to have developed. The Sclaters had just had a baby boy and were hoping to conceive another child, Mr. Sclater said.

"She was very much in love with her husband and I was very much in love with her," Mr. Sclater said.

Yesterday, court also heard about Mrs. Sclater's letter-writing habits.

In an apparent effort to demonstrate there was little unusual about the notes his client gave the boy, David Matheson, Mrs. Sclater's lawyer, painted a picture of her as someone who constantly sent personal notes to nearly everyone in her life, often signing them in an affectionate way no matter who the recipient.

"She would write thank-you notes for thank-you notes. It was a bit ridiculous," Mr. Sclater said during his testimony, laughing at the notion.

The court also heard from Tracey Merrifield, a daycare worker who used to watch the Sclaters' son and who said Mrs. Sclater would regularly write her notes signed, "Love, Laura" that also featured hearts, happy faces, and Xs and Os.

Paul Lindros, principal at Goodfellow public school in Alcona, Ont., where Mrs. Sclater taught at the time, said he was surprised when police first showed him the letters Mrs. Sclater wrote to the student. He said he was sure the handwriting was hers because he had also received many personal notes.

Mr. Lindros said he otherwise considered Mrs. Sclater a talented, sensitive teacher who proved tremendously adept at helping students in her class with special needs. He cited an evaluation he conducted in which he had remarked how, when she had to divide her class into groups according to their abilities, she named one set "Group One" and the other "Group A," so less advanced students would not be made to feel bad.

"I think it would be a shame if a teacher like Laura were not in the classroom," he said, though adding that the outcome of the ongoing criminal hearing should determine whether she is allowed to teach again.

The hearing is scheduled to resume today, with closing arguments expected this week.

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