By Louise Brown, Education Reporter, Toronto Star, November 29, 2010
Not only has the principal of the Africentric Alternative School been cleared by school board officials of a parent complaint, but a local radio station has apologized for letting the parent repeat the accusation on live radio.
York University radio station CHRY, which has a strong following in northwest Toronto, issued a retraction and apology twice Sunday night to the Toronto District School Board for letting a mother at the Africentric school accuse principal Thando Hyman-Aman of physically mistreating her son.
The accusation, which was made on air the previous week in highly charged language, had triggered a board investigation Oct. 28, during which the popular administrator was placed on home leave. Investigators ultimately concluded the complaint was “unfounded” — but not before the radio station’s discussion show “Cutting Edge” had allowed the mother to make her claims on air.
The board warned the station it would sue unless it apologized for not muting the inflammatory charge with its time-delay switch, said board lawyer Grant Bowers
Now that the principal has been cleared of the complaint, what action is the board pursuing with the complainant?
For years now the person issuing the complaint, in all circumstances, carries the day in the public mind. The charge or complaint takes the foreground position in the public mind, and everafter that complaint or charge is what sticks, not the subsequent clearance. What have, unfortunately, not only tabloid journalism, but also tabloid gossip in most communities and organizations and such gossip, especially after a formal complaint, is difficult, if not impossible, to eradicate or to stop.
While we do enjoy Habeas Corpus, the right to innocence until proven guilty, nevertheless, as in most situations, here once again the law is a very blunt instrument. And as the evidence demonstrates, many charges, even those filed by officers of the law, do not hold up in the courtroom.
I once had the opportunity to teach something called "Ethics for Law Enforcement" in a career college. The students were paying a private college for ten months' of training in the hope that some of their number would be selected to attend the "real" police college in Aylmer, ON. Most of these students were not interested in a course that asked them to begin each investigation with a clean slate. They wanted to enter all situations with a pre-conceived mindset that held someone guilty, and that was the position from which they would begin an investigation.
I was appalled and, of course, demonstrated in as many different ways as I could, the danger of this approach. We can all only hope that none of those students will ever cross the threshold of the police college, in preparation for actual work in uniform in any province in this country or in any other country.
Issuing a complaint, whether against a school principal, or a doctor, or a police officer, or a clergy or a social worker is a very serious and often malicious act, very often based on a need for revenge, and very often based on an extremely narrow perception of the situation. Often issues with "authority" are driving the complaint, and it is the abuse of authority in completely different past situations that emerge in such complaints.
In our valiant attempt to protect against abuse by all of society's frontline workers, we have created a system that is so weighted against the person complained against that there often is no justice even with an investigation and a subsequent clearance. And the mere filing of a complaint often marks the end of the career of the person against whom the complaint has been issued.
In many organizations, there is not an effective "due process" by which complaints are dealt with, and certainly in many instances, there is no funding for adequate legal representation to defend against the complaint.
The pursuit of power, on the part of an individual who believes s/he or a member of the family has been unfairly treated, through the filing of a formal complaint, can only lead to misrepresentation of the facts, because memory and perceptions are so conflicted. Officials responsible to "process" complaints are left with the "statements" of the offended party and of the "offending" party without, in many cases either adequate training or experience to discern motives, to ascertain the relative importance of grievances and to reach conclusions that bring justice to the situation.
This is one case in which, apparently, a 'due process' has been both followed and followed effectively.
There seems also to have been a significant "bank account" of public respect for this principal prior to the complaint, which undoubtedly made the decision of the review panel much more likely to be a favourable one for the principal.
Now that principal has to return to the frontline where students and teachers will perceive her differently, and she will have to deal with those differences. And the board and the rest of those students and faculty will be fortunate to have her back in her position of considerable responsibility.
Does the "finding" include some kind of compensation for the very fact that the complaint was filed in the first place?
Does the finding include an enhanced process in the event of any additional complaint from different sources?
Does the record of this complaint become part of the personnel file of the recipient of the complaint?
Does the principal have options as to whether a return to the same school is mandatory?
Does the school board, and/or the teachers' federation carry insurance for due process representation for all officials against whom a complaint is filed? Is that the responsibility of each individual principal?
In an increasingly litigious society, is it feasible that complaints will drive many from seeking positions of responsibility, because the potential of complaints has driven the costs of insurance so high, for example, that one family practitioner of my acquaintance, stopped performing the delivery of newborn babies decades ago for that very reason.
We are continuing down a road in which our media invades the lives of our politicians leaving many to refuse to even enter the arena, and in which our professionals are targets for people seeking either power or money or both, from their malicious complaints, and they are doing so in their pursuit of "justice".
Are we bending too far in the direction of complying with the complaint?
Are we making it less safe for individuals to take risks in the perfomance of their duties as responsible leaders?
Are we creating a culture where, for example, learning takes a back seat to the scrupulous attention to political correctness, in order to protect those leading the frontline workers?
What body is charged with the legitimate task of reviewing the culture of litigious complaints and with the provision of mediation services to resolve many of those complaints, now that our court system is overwhelmed with the numbers of cases?