Shelly received an email in late May that took her completely by surprise — a parent had written that their daughter had said something alarming at home.
Later, in a phone call, that parent said her child told her she’d seen their teacher tape Shelly’s daughter to a chair in their classroom to prevent her from getting up so much.
“I was in shock,” said Shelly, which is a pseudonym. CBC News has agreed to not use her name to protect the identity of her daughter, a kindergarten student.
“I kept replaying it in my head. And at first, you just want to believe that a teacher would never do something like that.”
Shelly says she later spoke to her five-year-old daughter, who told her the teacher did tape her to the chair.
“She told me she was supposed to be sitting in her seat and kept getting up. And so the teacher told her that she was going to have to put tape on her so that she wouldn’t get up any more.”.
The Toronto District School Board (TDSB) says the teacher at Seventh Street Junior School has been put on home assignment. The board has also confirmed it’s investigating allegations that two children were taped to chairs. It’s not the first time an Ontario teacher has faced allegations like this. Early childhood experts say the practice should never be employed and warn it could have long-term impacts.
Shelly says trying to talk to her daughter about the incident was challenging. She says every time they tried to bring it up she got “visibly agitated” and asked to talk about something else. But she says she was able to get her to demonstrate what happened.
“I sat down and she showed me that a piece of green tape was placed across her thighs on to the sides of the chair.” Her daughter told her it happened more than once, Shelly told CBC News.
Shelly says she immediately notified the principal at the school and the Children’s Aid Society.
The TDSB told CBC News it contacted its Employee Services department, Children’s Aid Society and the Toronto Police Service.
But Shelly says one of her biggest frustrations is that other parents weren’t immediately alerted to what happened.
“I felt really conflicted that I was told to be discrete about the situation and not talk about it … These parents — what if it was happening to their child as well?”
A month later, a letter was sent home to parents informing them that the teacher had been put on leave.
Shelly says she’s taken her daughter to a doctor and psychologist to ensure she has the resources to cope or talk about what happened.
“It’s really unclear how she’s really handling this because of her age,” she said.
More than anything, she wanted her daughter to understand what apparently happened was wrong, something she says she didn’t realize at first.
“Her comment was: ‘But she can do that because she’s the teacher, right?’ And that is when my heart sank. I just felt so sad that she felt that that was okay.”
In October 2021, a Kitchener,Ont., teacher taped two students to their chairs with masking tape to prevent them from socializing. The 53-year old was initially charged criminally, but the charges were withdrawn after she signed a peace bond.
“It’s abusive — really, really abusive,” said Dr. Linda Cameron, a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), and an early childhood expert.
Cameron acknowledges the pressure that teachers and young students are experiencing due to COVID-19 and the return to the classroom, but questions why staff didn’t know what was happening.
She says when it comes to children not wanting to sit still, kindergarten-age students require activity and playtime to balance learning.
“The teacher didn’t know what to do and she picked an alternative that is completely inappropriate,” said Cameron, who worries about the long-term impact the alleged incidents will have
“I’m sure that the child will remember that forever and ever. Through their schooling experience, it will affect them emotionally.”
The TDSB says it followed protocol in putting the teacher on home assignment pending an investigation.
“These allegations are very serious and, if true, would be completely unacceptable and could result in serious consequences up to and including dismissal,” said TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird.
He says the school couldn’t share details of the allegations immediately with parents after they first came to light because it had to allow Toronto police and the Children’s Aid Society time to investigate
The board says it’s also offering social work support for the students in the class where the incidents allegedly happened.
Toronto police told CBC they’ve determined it’s not a criminal matter, and the Ontario College of Teachers wouldn’t comment or confirm any investigation on its part.
As for Shelly, she says she wants the teacher to be taken out of schools.
“The psychological impact of exerting your power over a small child who doesn’t know any better – that alone is enough to say these practices are not things that we should be using in classrooms or anywhere.”