Toronto Sun

December 3, 2002

She's ba-ack!

What's it take to get a teacher fired in Simcoe County these days?

By LORRIE GOLDSTEIN -- Toronto Sun

Last Friday, Laura Sclater, who wrote dozens of letters laced with sexual innuendo to a 13-year-old boy in 1998, was restored as a member in "good standing" of the Ontario College of Teachers.

She can, in theory, go back to work as an elementary school teacher tomorrow. That is, if she wants to and Barrie's Simcoe County Board of Education, where she was previously employed, or any other school board, decides to hire her.

Except, you have to ask, what board in its right mind would hire Sclater today, despite the fact she's had her teaching certificate restored after she was acquitted in July of three sexual misconduct charges in connection with this case?

When those charges were laid, the college suspended Sclater's teaching certificate for the second time in her career.

While Sclater is once again a member in good standing of the college, she was also found guilty of professional misconduct and officially reprimanded, described by college prosecutor David Leonard as "very serious." That finding is now posted on the college's Web site, where it will remain for three years.

It will also be printed in the college's professional magazine.

Under the deal agreed to Friday - based on previous rulings by the college related to Sclater's initial inappropriate correspondence with the 13-year-old in 1998, and not upon the criminal charges of which she was acquitted - any board deciding to hire her will be required to monitor her conduct.

She will only be able to teach students who are in Grade 6 or younger. She will not be able to communicate with them via e-mail, and her written correspondence will have to be monitored to ensure it is appropriate. A year from now, any board which hires her will have to provide a written report about her performance to the college registrar.

The Simcoe County board, which two years ago reinstated Sclater after a previous suspension by the college over her 1998 conduct, faced a revolt by many parents who were appalled when she was allowed back into the classroom at Barrie's Holly Meadows Elementary School. The previous controversy in 1998 involved Sclater's correspondence with a 13-year-old at Goodfellow Public School, where she was teaching at the time. Despite that, the board stood squarely behind Sclater until the criminal charges were laid, at which point she was removed from the classroom and the college suspended her certificate, pending the trial.

Last week, Sharon Bate, Simcoe County's director of education, said there were no vacancies immediately available at the board and it will examine the college's decision before deciding what to do next - a position reaffirmed by a board spokesperson yesterday.

Then again, using the Simcoe board's own logic, since it previously allowed Sclater to teach despite the controversy about her inappropriate correspondence in 1998 - and only removed her from the classroom following the laying of criminal charges - it should now rehire her.

After all, with her teaching certificate now restored with the same conditions the college imposed after her 1998 letters were first discovered, things have basically returned to the status quo of September, 2000, when the Simcoe board chose to put Sclater back into the classroom.

The problem with this chain of logic is that the board's decision to re-instate Sclater was wrong then, just as it would be wrong now.

On the fact of Sclater's acquittal, surely behaviour does not have to be criminal to disqualify someone as a teacher.

Simply put, the Simcoe board should have fired Sclater after those letters were discovered in 1998, rather than suspending her, which is what led to the series of conditions imposed on her by the college in the first place.

In acquitting her at the criminal trial, Judge Harry Keenan ruled that while Sclater's conduct was "ill-advised and immature" it was not criminal, described the 13-year-old as "not a reliable witness" and criticized the boy's mother for pressuring the teen's best friend to fabricate certain events.

None of which changes the fact that four years ago, Sclater wrote more than 60 inappropriate letters to a 13-year-old, many loaded with sexual innuendo. For heaven's sake, if that's not enough to get you fired as a teacher, what is?

And while giving Sclater a second chance might be in her best interests, how, exactly, would it be in the best interests of the students of any school board that hired her?


Lorrie can be reached at (416) 947-2212, by fax at (416) 947-3228 or by e-mail at lorrie.goldstein@tor.sunpub.com..
Letters to the editor should be sent to editor@sunpub.com.

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