All certified teachers in Ontario are members of the Ontario College of Teachers (“OCT”). This includes contract teachers and occasional teachers. It also includes administrators such as vice-principals, principals and supervisory officers. These education professionals may teach for public, Catholic or private schools. Many people will have access to legal representation in College matters through the union or association that represents them in their employment matters.
The OCT regulates the teaching profession through licensing, accreditation and discipline. As part of this mandate, the OCT investigates complaints about members’ conduct, both in the school setting and outside of the school setting, and imposes discipline in certain cases. A complaint can relate to professional misconduct, incompetence or incapacity.
In this post we aim to provide an overview of the Complaints and Discipline process at the OCT. Nothing contained in this post is or should be interpreted as legal advice.
Complaints and Discipline Branch
When the OCT receives or initiates a complaint about a teacher’s professional conduct, it will start an investigation into the allegation through its Complaints and Discipline branch.
Decisions about complaints are made by three possible committees: the Investigation Committee, the Discipline Committee and the Fitness to Practise Committee. Panels of these committees are usually made up of three members. Panels are composed of both members of the profession and publicly-appointed individuals who are not teachers.
If a teacher is found to have engaged in professional misconduct as set out in a complaint or otherwise, the OCT can impose discipline on the teacher. If a teacher is found to be incompetent or incapacitated, the OCT can impose terms, conditions and limitations on the teacher’s certificate.
When a complaint is made to the OCT about a teacher, an investigator from the OCT will contact the teacher under investigation to advise them about the complaint and provide any other relevant information. Teachers should be provided with copies of all information that the Investigation Committee will consider in the complaint.
The teacher will then be given the opportunity to respond to the complaint. This response should be done in writing, and must be sent to the investigator within a specified time frame. If a complaint has been filed against you, you should consult promptly with legal counsel about your response.
When the investigator has gathered all the relevant information about the complaint from both the complainant and the teacher, the complaint is then put before the Investigation Committee for review.
The Investigation Committee may itself deal with the complaint or may refer the complaint to the Discipline Committee or Fitness to Practise Committee for consideration. If the Investigation Committee makes a decision that resolves the complaint, the decision will not be public, and will not be recorded on the Register, in the OCT magazine, Professionally Speaking, or elsewhere. However, a copy of the Investigation Committee’s decision is sent to the teacher under investigation, the complainant, and the teacher’s current employer. It is also kept on file at the OCT and may be considered in the event of future complaints.
The Investigation Committee can take various actions as a result of its review of the complaint. These range from issuing a reminder to the teacher about appropriate conduct to an in-person admonishment by the Investigation Committee.
If a complaint is referred to the Discipline Committee by the Investigation Committee, information about the allegation or allegations that are included in the complaint will be published on the OCT website. This website can be accessed by the public.
At the Discipline Committee level, the teacher under investigation must respond to the complaint through a hearing before a panel of the Discipline Committee. This is instead of a written response. Sometimes, the teacher and the College may agree on a position, and can make a joint submission to the Committee with no or only a partially contested hearing. Whether this is possible, and whether the Committee will accept the joint position, will depend on the facts and evidence of that particular case. We recommend consulting with legal counsel for advice about Discipline Committee proceedings.
At the conclusion of a Discipline Committee hearing, the panel of the Committee may order that no action be taken, or it may order a penalty be imposed on the teacher in question. These penalties range from an oral reprimand to the revocation of a teacher’s certificate with no opportunity for reinstatement.
Whether a complaint proceeds at the Discipline Committee by way of a contested or uncontested hearing, its decision will be published on the OCT website and in Professionally Speaking, as well as in other online legal databases. It will also be noted on the Register and the teacher’s Member Information page. This is true whether the hearing is contested, partially contested, or uncontested. Information about Discipline Committee decisions remains on the Register indefinitely.
Fitness to Practise Committee
In the normal course, if a complaint is referred to the Fitness to Practise Committee by the Investigation Committee, there is no information published about the complaint prior to the Committee’s decision.
The Fitness to Practise Committee determines complaints about a teacher's alleged incapacity. A panel of the Committee will assess whether the teacher under investigation is experiencing a physical or mental condition that impacts their ability to teach, and if so, whether the teacher is unfit to practise, or whether terms, conditions or limitations should be imposed on the teacher’s certificate.
At the end of a Fitness to Practise Committee hearing, the panel may order that the teacher’s certificate be revoked or suspended, or that specific terms, conditions or limitations be imposed on the teacher’s certificate. The Committee’s decision is not published but there may be a notation of terms and conditions on the Register.
Having a complaint made against you at the OCT can be a new and stressful experience. The experienced lawyers in our Education Law group are happy to guide you through the process.
If you have an issue with the OCT that does not relate to professional misconduct, incompetence or incapacity that you would like to discuss, contact one of the lawyers in Cavalluzzo LLP’s Education Law group, who would be happy to assist.