A discipline panel of the Ontario College of Teachers has found a former high school teacher with the Algoma District School Board not guilty of the three most serious allegations of professional misconduct levelled against him.
According to a 96-page decision obtained by SooToday.com, an OCT panel found Jeffrey Tavis Bussineau did not physically, emotionally or sexually abuse a female student.
The panel also ruled there was insufficient evidence that Bussineau provided inappropriate accommodation to the student in regards to an EQAO test.
The OCT discipline hearing, which lasted six days, concluded in January.
The disciplinary panel delivered its findings on April 15, but the OCT had not, as of Wednesday, published the decision on its website.
An OCT spokesperson said decisions are redacted to protect the identity of students and translated into French before being posted to the site.
The local high school teacher, who was fired by the ADSB in 2010, was found guilty of failing to maintain the standards of the profession, disgraceful, dishonourable or unprofessional acts, and conduct unbecoming a member of the OCT.
No criminal charges were ever laid by police in connection with the allegations against Bussineau and none of them have been proven in a court of law.
Bussineau’s lawyer was contacted by SooToday.com but did not offer comment on the panel’s decision.
OCT members have the right to appeal all findings of guilt made by a disciplinary panel.
The panel found Bussineau not guilty of the allegation that he had inappropriate sexual contact with a female student, that included touching and kissing, while she was alone with him briefly in a bedroom at his home about 40 minutes east of the Sault.
The panel wrote that although Bussineau admitted he had been alone at his home with the student for a short time, he denied that the alleged incident of sexual contact happened.
Bussineau was found guilty of three counts of professional misconduct under Regulation 437/97 of Ontario College of Teachers Act, for inappropriate non-sexual contact with the female student.
The personal contact included correspondence on Facebook with the then 17-year old female student, where he referred to her with terms of affection, and had, on one occasion, mentioned he was drinking beer while partially undressed.
The committee also ruled he had acted inappropriately by driving the student to a pharmacy so she could buy a morning-after birth control pill rather than referring her to school counselors.
The panel writes that in his testimony Bussineau told the hearing that at the time his reasons were to support the student, but he realized after that they were inappropriate, and that he regretted it.
Asima Vezina, the ADSB superintendent who led the board’s investigation into allegations against the teacher, told the panel that Bussineau had admitted during a June 15, 2010 interview that he had crossed a boundary in his personal relationship with the former student, but he was acting to try to “save a kid’s life.”
The panel wrote that she testified Bussineau had explained to her that he observed deep self-inflicted cuts on the student’s ankles in February, and other personal problems in her life the student shared in conversations with him, that led him to believe she might do something “unthinkable”.
On the seventh allegation of professional misconduct, that Bussineau had provided accommodations to the student during the Grade 10 literacy test which were not included in the student’s individual education plan, the committee also sided with the teacher.
It concluded Bussineau had acted in a professional and reasonable manner in writing down the test answers verbatim for the student, who had identified learning disabilities, and that he had shared those changes beforehand with staff.
The seven incidents of professional misconduct in question were alleged to have occurred between February and early April 2010.
Bussineau was fired by the board in October 2010 after an internal investigation, and was under an agreement with OCT not to teach until the college completed its hearing.
Regarding the three serious allegations of sexual contact with the student that were alleged to have occurred on April 4, 2010 in a bedroom in Bussineau’s home, the three-person jury wrote that it relied on the “credibility” of the teacher and student’s evidence and testimony of events to reach its finding.
The discipline committee stressed it was “very much aware of the seriousness of the allegation.”
In its written report, the panel said “The member’s evidence and testimony appeared to have a greater degree of clarity and conviction,” although it acknowledged that he had failed initially to recall the fourth visit by the girl to his home when they were alone for up to 30 minutes while his wife and two-year old daughter were out.
Bussineau had explained in his 2010 interviews with board investigators that the student had visited his home on three previous occasions to babysit with the agreement of his wife, the panel wrote.
While the discipline panel said it generally was frowned upon to employ students for babysitting, it did not “rise to the level” of professional misconduct to do so.
It wrote: “Today, it is generally seen to be inappropriate to have students spend time in a teacher’s home and engage in a teacher’s private life.”
It also rejected the argument of counsel for the college that Bussineau’s increasingly personal relationship with the student, including the babysitting job, were premeditated steps, or “classic grooming” toward the sexual contact that was alleged on the student’s final visit, even if the babysitting had represented “a one time lapse in judgment” by the teacher.
The panel said, “While the member’s choice of the student as a babysitter may seem strange or desperate to some, it does not necessarily imply any intention to engage in grooming.”
Further, the panel said the fact Bussineau had taken the student, who was in distress, to urgent care at the hospital a few days after the alleged sexual contact, and then set-up future counseling for her strengthened his credibility.
It pointed out that had the teacher wanted to cover up any sexual misconduct he would have “put himself in jeopardy” if the student revealed any details of the alleged incident to medical or counseling professionals.
“The committee gave a great deal of weight to the fact that the teacher acted in the best interests of the student by taking her to urgent care,” the panel wrote.
The committee concluded that the student’s version of the alleged incident in the teacher’s bedroom was less credible.
It pointed out that the student had reported the sexual contact to a school counselor in late September 2010, more than five months after it allegedly happened, and had denied any impropriety had occurred between the teacher and her in two previous interviews with board investigators.
The panel said also that there were “troubling” inconsistencies in the versions of the alleged sexual contact that the student told the board officials and city police investigators, with whom she met once, that raised doubts about her general credibility as a witness.
It added, “Given the option [by police] of pressing charges, the student opted not to proceed, and did not follow up with other scheduled interviews.”
Third, the discipline committee agreed with counsel representing Bussineau that around the time the student did report the sexual contact, she may have had personal “motivation” to invent the sexual misconduct.
A hearing for submissions for penalties for the three findings of professional misconduct related to inappropriate personal contact with the student has yet to be set.
Under the College of Teachers Act, those penalties could range from a reprimand to conditions attached to a teaching certificate, or revocation of the teacher’s certificate to teach.