Dealing with Harassment by Students, Parents and other Adults
Teachers have the right to be treated with respect and to work in an environment free from harassment and abuse. Nova Scotia's teaching staff are increasingly reporting incidents of inappropriate behaviour from students, parents and other adults. The information in this publication is intended to raise awareness of the problems teachers are facing and to provide general information about the law in this area. Readers are encouraged to seek legal advice for their specific questions regarding the law.
What kinds of incidents involving students, parents and other adults are teachers concerned about?
- Parents coming into classrooms and yelling at teachers
- Teachers receiving angry or inappropriate comments in public
- Inappropriate comments or behaviour in the classroom
- Threats received at home or at school
- Damage to property at home or at school
- Pushing or other unwelcome physical contact
- Repeated phone calls and/or emails
When is behaviour inappropriate?
There are several laws and policies that define inappropriate behaviour inside and outside of school. Below are some key points of these acts and policies.
Nova Scotia Teachers Union Collective Agreement
Protection for teachers from abuse is found in Article 6.05 of the NSTU Collective Agreement. This section states that the union recognizes the responsibility of School Boards to establish a policy to protect teachers from harassment and abuse.
The Nova Scotia Teachers Union also has a Member Incident Reporting Form which is used to document behaviour which is not conducive to a safe, orderly, positive and effective learning environment. When an incident occurs, teachers must complete the form within 24 hours and fax or mail it to NSTU central office. This allows the Union to have a record of the incident and aids in the process of resolving the issue.
Model Policy "Harassment or Abuse of Teachers by School Community Members"
The Nova Scotia Teachers' Union proposed a model policy to address harassment and abuse of teachers. Each Regional School Board has the option to adopt this policy either in part or in whole. Various regions throughout the Province have harassment policies in place (Annapolis Valley, Chignecto-Central and Strait Regional School Boards). Teachers are advised to check with their Board to determine whether or not a policy has been adopted. Model policy highlights are outlined below.
Improper conduct under this policy may be verbal, physical, written or electronic and may include the following:
- Unwanted comments, inferences or suggestions
- Aggressive and intimidating behaviour
- Verbal threats
- Unwelcome sexual comments, conduct or advances
- Verbal and emotional abuse
- Application of force or physical assault
- Bullying (an attempt to undermine someone through cruel or humiliating behaviour)
- Mobbing (a collective effort to psychologically harass a person)
Under the model policy, there are informal and formal complaint procedures.
In the informal complaint procedure, the teacher attempts to communicate to the harassing person that their behaviour is inappropriate, either in person or by letter. Teachers should ensure to document all incidents involving the person. If the problem is not resolved, the teacher shall inform a person in authority at their school, such as a principal, who will attempt to resolve the situation. If the problem still exists, the teacher may commence the formal complaint procedure.
The formal complaint procedure must begin within a year of the incident. The teacher must complete a Harassment Complaint Form, have a person in authority sign it and forward the form to the Director of Human Resources. The Director will first attempt to resolve the situation and if unsuccessful, they will appoint someone to investigate the complaint.
The investigator interviews the parties involved, prepares a report about the complaint and presents the report to the Director of Human Resources, the Superintendent of Schools and the parties involved. If the investigation confirms that harassment has occurred, the Director of Human Resources will commence appropriate intervention such as formal mediation, a letter of warning or a formal apology. If a more serious response is appropriate, the Director may refer the matter to police.
Education Act, S.N.S. 1995-1996, c.1, s.1/h3>
Teachers have a duty under s.26(1)(k) of the Education Act to "take all reasonable steps necessary to create and maintain an orderly and safe learning environment". This duty is supported s.27 which gives teachers the power to exclude anyone from school premises who "disturbs the learning environment".
Parents have a duty to support their children's teachers according to s.25(1)(e) of the Act.
Section 70 prohibits the use of profane, threatening, abusive or improper language towards teachers by anyone on school premises. If someone breaches this section, teachers may ask the person to leave school premises or may call police to remove the offender. Any person who breaches this section commits a punishable offence and will face a fine, imprisonment or both.
Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46
The Criminal Code provides protection for all Canadians from harm in many forms. The following are Criminal Code offenses commonly committed by those who harass, harm or threaten others.
- Criminal Harassment (s.264) - behaviour that causes the other person to reasonably fear for their safety or the safety of others. This includes following the person, repeatedly contacting the person directly or indirectly, stalking the person, and threatening conduct towards the person or their family.
- Harassing telephone calls (s.372(3)) - it is an offense to make repeated phone calls with the intent to harass someone.
- Assault (s.265) - harming someone directly or indirectly or using threats of harm to the other person or someone else. This section includes all forms of assault, which may range from verbal threats to very serious crimes like aggravated sexual assault.
- Theft (s.322) - taking something from someone either permanently or temporarily with the intent to deprive the owner of it.
- Uttering Threats (s.264.1) - threats of death or bodily harm to any person, to damage real or personal property, or to cause harm to a pet.
- Mischief (s.430) - includes not only willful destruction of property but can also include interference with the use, enjoyment, or operation of property.
Human Rights Act,R.S.N.S. 1989, c.214, s.1
The Human Rights Act protects against discrimination and harassment based on race, colour, sex, religion, marital status, sexual orientation and disability.
What should I do if I am a victim?
If you feel you are the victim of inappropriate or harassing behaviour there are various ways to resolve the situation.
- You can meet with the person responsible for the inappropriate behaviour and tell them that their actions or comments are unacceptable. You do not have to do this alone. In some situations this may be enough to resolve the problem.
- If you are intimidated or uncomfortable dealing with the individual yourself, you should consider seeking help from your school, district, or professional association.
- If you are afraid for your personal safety, or the safety of someone else, you should contact the police immediately.
- It may be wise to keep notes to ensure you have accurate information about the incidents should you choose to take further action.
- Write down the appropriate contact numbers and keep them in your purse or wallet where you can quickly access them should a problem arise.
What can the school do?
If there is a conflict between a parent or student and a teacher, the first step is to meet one-on-one with the parent/student and attempt to resolve the problem or come to an agreement. If this initial meeting is unsuccessful, the principal may be included to help bridge the gap between the people involved. Some schools may have restorative justice or mediation programs to help resolve conflicts.
In cases where there has been a serious incident or ongoing problems with an individual, he or she may be barred from the school property. Trespassing on school property can result in a fine of up to $500 for a first offense under the Protection of Property Act.
If the problem persists, the teacher and principal may wish to bring the complaint to the employer through the Regional School Board.
What can my professional association or union do?
It is the employer's duty to provide teachers with a safe work environment and to support teachers who are being harassed or threatened. If you feel you are not receiving the help you need, your teachers' organizations will advise you and, if necessary, intercede on your behalf.
What can police do?
If you have been threatened, assaulted, or if you are worried about your safety, you should consider contacting the police or RCMP in addition to notifying school officials. They may intervene in situations where the Criminal Code has been violated and can lay charges against the student, parent or other adult. In some cases they may recommend dealing with the situation outside of court by using a Community Justice Forum or other restorative justice models to help parties work together to resolve conflict. If you are concerned for your safety or the safety of your family or property, the police may be able to assist you in obtaining a peace bond. A peace bond is a court order in which a person who has acted in a threatening or harassing manner agrees to stop and to stay away from you. The agreement states that the party promises "to keep the peace and be of good behaviour". A peace bond can be ordered by a judge even where someone does not agree if there are reasonable grounds for fear. Peace bonds may last up to one year and police may lay charges if they are broken.
As a victim can I get compensation for damage caused or harm done?
If you have suffered personal injury or damage to property and wish to be compensated, you should consult a lawyer who can advise you based on the details of your specific situation. Any costs incurred during this process will be paid by the teacher.
- Don't blame yourself.
- Don't ignore it. Ongoing harassment can affect your physical and mental wellbeing, concentration and job performance.
- Tell someone you trust. It is important to have emotional support.
- Keep written records. Write down what happened, dates, names of witnesses and how you reacted.
- Read up on the subject and ask questions.
- Cooperate in the investigation. If you lodge a complaint it is important to cooperate at all stages of the investigation. If you are uncomfortable or nervous, ask to have a friend come with you to the interview.
- Be proactive. Initiate or participate in workshops or events that engage discussion between parents, students and teachers about appropriate behaviour in and out of school.
For more information:
Nova Scotia Teachers Union
Province of Nova Scotia
Education Act, S.N.S. 1995-96, c.1, s.1
Human Rights Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c.214, s.1
Protection of Property Act, R.S.N.S. 1989, c.363
Criminal Code, R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46
Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia
The Legal Information Society of Nova Scotia is a not-for-profit organization and a registered charity. It is funded in part by grants from the Law Foundation of Nova Scotia and the Nova Scotia Department of Justice, by a contribution from Justice Canada and by donations from Nova Scotians.