06/07/2012 03:22 EDT | Updated 08/07/2012 05:12 EDT

Five-year teaching ban for student sex abuse among 49 changes urged for Ontario

TORONTO - Teachers found guilty of sexual misconduct involving students should almost always lose their certification for at least five years, a report released Thursday recommends.

In addition, the review of the disciplinary system for Ontario's teachers urges that allegations of sexual misconduct be dealt with in an open hearing, not through a dispute-resolution process.

Those are among 49 recommendations from former provincial chief justice Patrick LeSage, whose nine-month review followed criticism of the Ontario College of Teachers over its disciplinary practices.

Critics argued the system lacked transparency, the identities of teachers disciplined for misconduct were shielded, or that bad teachers received slaps on the wrist.

The report tackles the issues head on.

LeSage calls for disciplinary information — including the names of teachers charged with misconduct — to be publicized, hearings to be open, and decisions be readily accessible via the college's website.

Decisions in less serious cases arrived at through a dispute-resolution process rather than full-scale hearings should also be publicized, the report says.

In addition, reinstatement hearings, currently closed to the public, should also as a rule be open, LeSage says.

"The overriding principle must be transparency and openness," LeSage states in his 76-page report.

"All hearings must be open unless there are exceptional circumstances."

While LeSage was reluctant to mandate minimum penalties, he said sexual offences involving students should "almost invariably" lead to a minimum five-year teaching ban.

Information about the ban should remain indefinitely on the public record, he says.

"Cases involving sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by a teacher involving a student are most serious offences," LeSage says.

"This is a fundamental violation of the trust the public has placed in that teacher."

Registrar Michael Salvatori conceded the college has failed to meet public expectations of transparency.

"Beginning today, we'll change that," Salvatori said.

He pledged to "move swiftly" on implementing the recommendations, most of which would require legislative changes, but Salvatori said he expected no problems on that score.

Education Minister Laurel Broten said she would discuss the report with the college with an aim to acting on its recommendations to ensure transparency, accountability and confidence in the system.

When teachers fall short, Broten said, parents need to know action will be taken and the outcome made public.

LeSage urges faster disciplinary hearings, decision making, and reporting on teacher misconduct or incompetence. He also calls for greater information sharing between the college and other public agencies, such as school boards.

Among other recommendations:

— Cases involving a teacher who has been criminally convicted should be fast-tracked through the disciplinary process;

— Teachers subject to a complaint should be told promptly, get information about the allegations, and have a maximum 60 days to respond;

— Findings of professional misconduct or incompetence resulting in reprimands, counselling or fines should remain in the public domain for three years.

The Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario said false allegations against teachers remained a problem the LeSage report did not address properly.

The federation urged that a teacher's name and the allegations should be removed from the college's website if the college withdraws a complaint.

The group People for Education said the recommendations, if adopted, would enhance parents' confidence and streamline "a cumbersome and slow process."