LÉVIS, Que. — The psychological harm suffered by a Quebec elementary teacher after a student brought knives to school and told classmates he planned to kill her was a workplace injury, the province's labour tribunal has ruled.
The teacher, identified only as K.R. in the ruling, filed a workplace injury claim in February 2020, saying the incident — which took place three months before — and the boy's continued presence in her class led to an anxiety disorder.
The tribunal ruling overturns a May 2020 decision by Quebec's labour board, which sided with her employer, dismissed her claim and ordered her to repay more than $1,590 in benefits.
"Receiving death threats, even if they are not carried out, is beyond the normal and foreseeable scope of a second grade teacher's work," administrative judge Renée-Claude Bélanger wrote in his late July ruling.
Bélanger's decision found a seven-year-old student — identified as X — told other children he had brought knives to school in order to kill the teacher. Those threats were reported to a school daycare worker, who found four butter knives in the boy's backpack and confiscated them.
But K.R. told the tribunal she was never officially informed about the incident and instead heard about what had happened from a fifth grade student.
She testified that after the child told her about the incident, moments before the start of class, she felt a sense of panic and remembers little of the morning.
"All that she remembers is that X was in her class and that no one came to see her to tell her about the situation or ask if she was all right," Bélanger wrote.
Later in the day, during recess, a colleague came to ask K.R. if it was true that X had brought knives to school and threatened to kill her. The colleague told her all the children were talking about the incident, according to the ruling, but K.R. still hadn't been officially informed of what happened.
She wouldn't find out that the student had only brought simple butter knives to school until months later when she read documents filed with the labour board, Bélanger wrote.
"The Tribunal holds that she would have liked to not have had X in her class at the beginning of the day and to have been advised of the situation by someone other than a fifth-grader," he wrote.
While X and his mother met with a police officer and school administrators that day, K.R. testified she wasn't invited to the meeting, Bélanger wrote.
In her testimony, K.R. described X as a disruptive student who was feared by other children and who frequently ran away from class.
She told the tribunal the boy's behaviour in the months that followed exacerbated the anxiety she felt after the incident and she dreaded the thought of having to finish the school year with him in her class.
School administrators rejected a request to allot dedicated time for the student to work with a special-education teacher, according to her testimony.
She stopped working in mid-January 2020 and sought medical attention for her anxiety.
The teacher's employer, a school service centre that operates the school near Quebec City where she taught, opposed her workplace injury claim. Neither the school nor the service centre are named in the ruling.
According to the decision, the employer argued X never posed a real or potential danger to the teacher and her situation doesn't meet the criteria for a workplace injury.
It told the tribunal the teacher received all the necessary and available professional assistance and that her teaching responsibilities were the normal and expected duties of an elementary school teacher.
While Bélanger ruled that dealing with a disruptive student is part of a primary school teacher's normal responsibilities, X's behaviour, coupled with the death threat, went beyond what a second grade teacher would normally be expected to handle and were "objectively traumatic."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 26, 2023.
— By Jacob Serebrin in Montreal
The Canadian Press