Teaching misconduct body lacks resources

  • Traumatic experience: Christine DaCosta calls for a change of the law during a demonstration outside Sessions House in March (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The organisation responsible for handling allegations of teacher misconduct does not have the resources to carry out its statutory duties, according to its chairman.

Crenstant Williams told The Royal Gazette that though the law governing the Bermuda Educators Council gave it the power to investigate allegations against teachers, carry out disciplinary proceedings and issue teaching bans, it did not do so.

Instead, the Department of Education deals with allegations of teacher misconduct in public schools, behind closed doors.

Complaints about teachers in private schools are dealt with by the schools themselves, not the department.

Mr Williams said: “Currently, we do not have a professional conduct committee. It’s one of the things that we want to form. The council is not a full-time functioning body.

“We are not open every single day. I’m a classroom teacher. I can’t be in the classroom and at the council.”

Mr Williams spoke to the newspaper after we reported on October 25 the case of Christine DaCosta, who was groomed for sex by teacher Robert DiGiacomo while a student at Mount Saint Agnes Academy in 1999.

Mr DiGiacomo, then a 44-year-old married father of three, was made to resign from the private Catholic school and banned from entering the premises.

But MSA did not carry out a full investigation or subject the teacher to disciplinary proceedings.

The Bermuda Educators Council Act was passed by Parliament three years later, with the aim of maintaining and improving standards of professional conduct of educators, as well as raising teaching standards.

The law enabled a council to be set up and gave it disciplinary functions, such as the ability to investigate alleged teacher misconduct and issue disciplinary and prohibition orders where allegations were proven.

Its statutory powers mirror those of the Teaching Regulation Agency in Britain, which conducts disciplinary proceedings in public, for the most part, and publishes online the outcomes of hearings.

But Mr Williams said the role of the council was limited to issuing licences to teachers at public and private schools. Those licensed are listed on a register of educators.

Mr Williams said he was “sickened” to read Ms DaCosta’s story and immediately asked the administrator of the register to ensure Mr DiGiacomo’s name was not on the list.

“We don’t take that lightly,” he said.

Mr Williams added that council members wanted to form a professional conduct committee and carry out disciplinary functions.

“It should be [for] all the schools, public and private,” he said. “The educators’ council represents all teachers. In my personal view, we should all be singing from the same hymn sheet.”

He said the council recently spoke to Diallo Rabain, the Minister of Education, and was hopeful it could happen.

“Normally, the Ministry [of Education] is the one to deal with alleged misconduct,” he said. “We don’t have the manpower to do it.”

The chairman said that, if the council was a “full-time functioning body”, a case such as the one involving MSA could result in a public disciplinary hearing and a prohibition order to prevent the person from teaching again.

“For me, it’s a gentleman having sexual relations with students. It shouldn’t have to go behind closed doors.”

Ms DaCosta said yesterday she was dismayed there still appeared to be so little oversight of teachers, 20 years after her case was reported.

“There is a need to try to get some controls around this. It’s bigger than just me and bigger than just one story,” she said.

“I am just so infuriated by how I was let down by the system that I want the system to change.

“I think all the schools should adhere to a single protocol and, if I had my way, there would be a body where incidents of sexual misconduct could be reported to.”

Ms DaCosta, now 38, said the agency dealing with teacher misconduct should be independent from the Government and the schools, and should be required to hire an outside firm with experience of sexual misconduct cases to investigate all such allegations.

“Most schools have as their motto that they aim to protect and nurture,” she said. “We have to have the courage of our convictions. Do we want to protect our children or not?”

A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said the BEC was self-regulating, adding: “The functioning of a professional conduct committee is the remit of the BEC, as legislated in the BEC Act.”

She said: “Complaints against teacher misconduct in the public school system are dealt with by the Department of Education, in accordance with the Collective Bargaining Agreement.”

The spokeswoman said it was “within best practice of the Department of Education to ensure that police vetting takes place during the recruitment of any teacher” and that new teachers in the public school system had to do training provided by child sex abuse prevention charity Scars before starting work.

“The ministry and the department are steadfast in our commitment to protect the welfare and innocence of all students in our schools,” she added.

Questions for Mr Rabain on whether there was enough oversight of teachers, whether disciplinary proceedings should be public and on whether resources would be allocated to the BEC to allow a professional conduct committee to be formed went unanswered.

MSA told Ms DaCosta in May that an investigation it commissioned this year was “satisfied that lessons have been learnt following your disclosure and current safeguarding procedures, practices and protocols have been developed over time and are in line with expected standards of practice in Bermuda”.

Several private schools shared details of their child safeguarding policies and confirmed that neither the Ministry of Education nor Department of Education was involved in dealing with teacher misconduct allegations.

The schools said child abuse allegations were reported to the Department of Child and Family Services and the police.