Twenty-eight Ontario teachers found by their college to have committed a sexually-related breach of trust have lost their teaching credentials, the Star has learned.
The revocations include a teacher at a Toronto art school who “spooned” with female students on international trips and sent 1,300 sexually charged texts to one female student, including one text where he said he had a dream of performing oral sex on her.
These 28 teachers — the college has only confirmed one name to the Star — lost their privilege to teach on Dec. 8, 2020, when changes to an Ontario law made retroactive the new rule that any teacher previously found guilty by the Ontario College of Teachers of sexual impropriety would lose his or her teaching licence.
Some were still listed in “good standing” up until Dec. 8; most had left the teaching profession in Ontario, according to a College spokesperson. However, anyone checking their credentials, perhaps looking to hire them in another jurisdiction, would not have the full picture of their disciplinary record.
Over the past ten years, Toronto Star reporters have investigated the college’s practice of giving what critics say amounted to a slap on the wrist to teachers who committed sexually inappropriate acts with students. The Star found an inconsistent approach by the college, which regulates teachers in Ontario.
While the college made the move on December 8, 2020, it has not made the information public. When the Star discovered the identity of one teacher who lost his licence — Richard Burdett — a spokesperson for the college confirmed Burdett was one of the 28 who had their licence revoked, but said the full list of names will not be made public until they are published in Professionally Speaking, the college’s official publication, on Tuesday.
“In total there are 28 affected individuals who are in a revoked status as of December 8, 2020,” said college spokesperson Gabrielle Barkany. She said that five of these teachers were until Dec. 8 last year listed as members in “good standing,” though some had conditions listed on their teaching licence. The other 23, she said, had left the teaching profession. However, as the Star’s investigation has found, employers at education institutions not covered by the Ontario College of Teachers would not know of the former teacher’s history if checking credentials.
These revocations follow a new Ontario rule introduced last fall that banned from teaching any teacher disciplined for sexual abuse or child pornography. The province then made that rule retroactive.
Two Toronto Star investigations over the past decade revealed a lax approach to discipline of some teachers, and the practice of some school boards quietly transferring teachers disciplined for sexual impropriety to other school boards, which was probed by Star reporters Victoria Gibson and Vjosa Isai.
Barkany said the College is now required to “revoke the certificates of individuals who the Discipline Committee found to be guilty of an act of professional misconduct consisting of or including sexual abuse of a student or a prohibited act involving child pornography.”
When that came into force last November, the College went back through its files and discovered 28 teachers who technically still could work as a teacher in Ontario.
One was Richard Burdett, a popular drama teacher at a Toronto high school known for its arts programs.
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A Star investigation of the lack of discipline meted out by the college in many cases, discovered the case of Burdett, who received a 12-month suspension beginning Feb. 2011, but then was cleared to teach. According to the report of the discipline committee that heard his case, Burdett, a drama teacher, had an ongoing series of inappropriate interactions with female students at his school.
Among them, on a Grade 11 and 12 school trip to England in the 2006/2007 school year, Burdett brought four pajama-clad female students into his dormitory bedroom and cuddled on his bed with them in an activity he called “spooning.”
Back in Canada, he told one of the girls his wife would be away for most of July, and the then 40-year-old Burdett messaged, “We can throw a little spoonfest here if you want.”
The behaviour continued for some time. In another instance, he exchanged 1,300 text messages with a young student and described vivid sexual fantasies. In one, he told the student he dreamt they were at a cottage together. The dream was “sinful really, but insanely real,” Burdett wrote. “It involved me going down on you at a cottage and everything seemed real, taste, texture, etc.” Then Burdett said the dream woke him up. He then apologized for providing “too much info.”
“Delete this,” Burdett typed.
“Just did,” the student replied.
“Man, it was soo (sic) real,” Burdett typed. Over the weekend the messaging continued with discussions of the student’s breasts, pubic hair and the dream.
When his conduct was discovered by the student’s mother and reported, Burdett was initially given a 30-day unpaid suspension. Following a hearing into his conduct (he taught at an adult centre pending his hearing) he was given a one-year teaching suspension. During his discipline hearing, Burdett “acknowledged that his behaviour was inappropriate and represented a significant lack of judgment,” his College decision says.
Burdett did not respond to requests for comment on this story, or the Star’s previous investigation. According to his website, Burdett is now a photographer.
The Star will report on the names of the other 27 teachers when the College makes them available.
According to the College spokesperson, the College has “reached out to affected individuals” and told them of the revocation. Barkany said in some cases, “school board employers were also notified.”
Kevin Donovan can be reached at 416-312-3503 or [email protected]
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