Critics call for suspension of Alberta teacher registry and review of privacy concerns, 'legal loopholes'

·4 min read
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange's office says, in some instances, publication bans from criminal matters or convictions might prevent information from being added to the registry.  (CBC News - image credit)
Education Minister Adriana LaGrange's office says, in some instances, publication bans from criminal matters or convictions might prevent information from being added to the registry. (CBC News - image credit)

Some parents and policy experts say the Alberta government should consider suspending or removing its new teacher registry until it can address a number of privacy and safety concerns.

The province admits there may be situations where a court-ordered publication ban involving criminal matters or convictions of a teacher prevents information from a disciplinary hearing or decision to suspend or cancel a certificate from being shared on its new registry.

The registry went live on Sept. 1 after the legislature passed a bill in 2021 enabling its creation.

The government says it's one of several new measures that will increase the transparency of teacher discipline and improve student safety.

But Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams says right now, the registry is not serving that purpose.

"We've got this ironic situation where the people who have actually been convicted of offences, the government's more careful about their information than they are about the information of people against whom no questions have even been raised," she said.

Colin Hall/CBC
Colin Hall/CBC

Since the registry went live, Alberta Education says it has removed disciplinary decision and hearing documents of a number teachers convicted of crimes as the government looks to confirm whether or not publication bans are in place and to ensure they're in compliance with the Education Act.

In recent weeks the registry has also been criticized for including the names of deceased teachers and outing trans people by listing their birth names underneath their legal names.

Yet in cases like that of former Edmonton teacher Alyssa Tungul, who was convicted and sentenced of criminal offences involving a student, no information about the offences is available on the registry because the case hasn't made it's way through the disciplinary hearing process.

CBC
CBC

"The registry does not include information on matters that are currently underway," said the education minister's press secretary, Katherine Stavropoulos, in an email.

"Once a disciplinary matter has concluded — and if it results in a finding of unprofessional conduct or professional incompetence and the minister suspends or cancels a teacher or teacher leader's certificate as a consequence — then the decision will be added to the online registry."

Stavropoulos said this is done at the completion of the matter to ensure outcomes are not assumed or precluded, and to ensure procedural fairness while a legislated complaint process is underway.

But according to Williams, the registry seems flawed.

"This whole system was meant to provide a transparent list so parents could be assured that the people teaching their children are safe and have not been found guilty of offences that could pose a danger to their children," said Williams.

"It doesn't seem like it's doing what they thought it needed to do."

Wing Li, with the parent advocacy group Support Our Students Alberta, says the registry feels ill prepared and not ready for public use.

Submitted by Wing Li
Submitted by Wing Li

"If the point of it, as government says, is to protect the public and to protect students and learning places from problematic teachers, then they need to do a better job of keeping the files accurate, because they're also violating the privacy of lots of other teachers who are not problematic," she said.

"Maybe it should be taken offline until they sort out these technicalities and legal loopholes and obstacles.

Williams agrees.

"It may well be appropriate to suspend access to the list until a proper review and correction of these problems can be accomplished," she said.

In a July 25, 2022, letter from the Office of the Information and Privacy  Commissioner (OIPC) to the education minister and the Alberta Teacher's Association, the commissioner recommends the government conduct a privacy impact assessment for the registry, if it had not already been done.

The commissioner say they would be happy to review such an assessment and provide input.

The government says its staff did complete privacy assessments prior to the launch of the registry, but it wouldn't release copies of the assessments or say exactly when the work was completed.

As of Wednesday, the OIPC had not been provided the assessments, or received any complaints since the registry was launched.

The Alberta Teachers' Association says it has met with the government since the concerns were originally raised, and is now giving the government time to implement changes.

"If we don't see them soon, however, we are prepared to take the next steps with the OIPC, which could include a complaint," said ATA communications officer Mark Milne in an email.

"It should be noted that anyone listed on the registry can file a complaint with OIPC as well."

Alberta Education says requests for an exemption from the list can be made at any time. So far it has received 110 requests.

Officials say exemptions can be made if inclusion on the registry conflicts with another law in Alberta or Canada; if it contradicts a court order; or if inclusion could reasonably cause injury or hardship to a person.

Education Minister Adriana LaGrange was unavailable for an interview.