Public vs. private: Who has to report sex assault allegations at schools?
When a sexual assault is reported at a public school in Toronto, schools are required to inform police.
Ontario requires all school boards to have protocols in place covering police involvement in schools. The arrangement between Toronto police and the city’s public school boards mandates that police must be contacted about all suspicions of sexual assault and several other crimes.
Additionally, provincial law requires cases of child abuse to be reported to the Children’s Aid Society when they come to the attention of professionals such as doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers and principals.
“It has to be done immediately, and it’s not done through the principal. The teacher picks up the phone and calls CAS,” Marvin Zuker, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute for Studies in Education, told CTVNews.ca via telephone Tuesday.
Private schools, however, do not answer to school boards – and on the subject of reporting abuse to CAS, they have argued that the requirement does not apply to their personnel.
“The lawyers for private schools … say that they do not have an obligation to report, and children’s rights lawyers say that they still do, but that hasn’t been decided by a judge,” John Schuman, a Toronto-based family lawyer, said Tuesday in a telephone interview.
Private school teachers are not required to be certified by the province, which could further add to confusion around their duty to report, Zuker said – even though the law does not draw any distinction there.
“If I’m a teacher at a private school, I have a duty to report just like a teacher in the public school system,” he said.
These discrepancies have come to the fore this week following eight expulsions and six arrests of students at St. Michael’s College School. The students are accused of sexually assaulting one of their classmates with a broom handle. Police have said they are also investigating five other incidents involving the all-boys Catholic school, including one alleged sexual assault.
School principal Greg Reeves has been criticized for his handling of the incident that led to the arrests, including not reporting the incident until nearly two days after he first learned of it – and only when police officers showed up at the school on an unrelated matter.
“There wasn’t a rationale in my mind to say ‘Don’t call the police.’ I intended to call the police the entire time,” he said Monday at a press conference.
Reeves said he had told parents that he would be contacting the police, and planned to do so after having expulsion meetings with the students and their families.
“I made the decision in the best interest of that boy,” he said.
Toronto Police Insp. Domenic Sinopoli said Monday that Reeves should have contacted police as soon as he learned of the video. Schuman says that would have happened at a public school.
“The things that are on the videotape absolutely fall into the things that principals are required to report,” he said.
“If you’re a teacher who has got a kid who’s been sexually abused, you as a teacher have probably got no training on how to deal with that whatsoever – but assistance for how to deal with that is a phone call away, by calling the police.”
St. Michael’s addresses allegations of violent conduct through its bullying policy, which lays out many disciplinary options for bullying activity, including police reporting. Staff members are told to report all incidents of bullying to the school principal and to contact police “if necessary.”
Schuman, who often handles cases involving school bullying, said he has received far more complaints about alleged bullying at St. Michael’s than at any other school in the city.
In the wake of the expulsions and arrests, St. Michael’s has established a hotline for anonymous tips. An app through which tips can be submitted is also under development.
Sinopoli said Tuesday that the school has been forwarding all potentially relevant information it receives to police investigators, and that Reeves seemed to have learned a lesson from his delay in reporting the initial allegations.
“I think if he could walk this back, he would likely do this very differently,” Sinopoli told reporters.
Schuman told CTV Toronto on Monday that he does not expect students to use the app to report being the victims of serious abuse.
“That’s never going to happen. You’re never going to get kids to say ‘I’ve been sexually abused’ or ‘I’ve been hazed’ or that stuff,” he said.
“It’s just not the way … boys in that environment are going to act.”
With files from CTV Toronto and The Canadian Press