Burnaby teacher cleared of misconduct

A Burnaby teacher has been cleared of misconduct after making a boy cry at a public meeting during the last civic election.

The incident happened on Nov. 1, 2011 at a forum hosted by the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion featuring candidates running for Burnaby school trustee, said the recent decision by the B.C. Teacher Regulation Branch.

Designated candidates responded to a pre-arranged question on safety. Then West Tomelden, at the time a Grade 8 student in Vancouver, asked, "Last year I witnessed my teacher duct tape another student's mouth shut… during class. I was just wondering what would be an appropriate disciplinary action to that?"

Sharon Gail Freeman, a teacher-librarian at Stride Avenue Community School, stood and said, "Excuse me, as a teacher I'd like to say that I think that's an inappropriate question for him to ask these people." She then faced the boy and said, "And I think you had a responsibility to go to your teacher and to go to your principal immediately."

The boy then put his hand to his face and left the room. He went into the hallway and then into the men's washroom where he was crying.

The allegation was that Freeman was guilty of professional misconduct or conduct unbecoming a teacher.

Freeman is a teaching veteran of more than 30 years. She did not know the boy at the time, nor that the boy's mother was a school trustee candidate, Jade Tomelden, and that the incident he spoke of happened outside Burnaby school district.

Freeman testified that she attended the forum on her own time. She spoke up out of concern that any future teacher disciplinary hearings in Burnaby would be compromised if a candidate expressed an opinion on appropriate punishment and then was elected school trustee.

The Teacher Regulation Branch found that Freeman was at the meeting as a private citizen and that none of her actions amounted to professional misconduct.

After viewing a videorecording of the incident provided by another trustee candidate, Charter Lau, the panel found that Freeman "spoke sharply to him, but she did not abuse him, use hectoring or offensive language or tone of voice; she did not ridicule or debase him in any way."

When she realized the boy was crying she twice made a "sincere effort" to console him but was rebuffed by his mother, who accused Freeman of "bullying" her son in an account by a Vancouver Sun reporter.

"There was no evidence ... of harm to West Tomelden save for the tears he shed at the meeting," said the decision.

The boy testified that he has since gone on to enjoy a career as a child actor, appearing in a number of commercials and at least one film. He's now a member of his school's debate team.

"He bears [Freeman] no ill will and acknowledged in his testimony that she had the right to speak up at the meeting."

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