The beginning of summer break for students across Ontario also means the release of their final grades. While student evaluation is only one part of a teacher’s job, it is crucial for the integrity of the school system and for students’ post-secondary education opportunities. In the recent decision Fernandes v Peel Educational & Tutorial Services Ltd., the Ontario Court of Appeal stressed the importance of proper grading techniques for teachers in private schools.
Mr. Fernandes was employed as a teacher at a private school in Mississauga offering pre-kindergarten to grade 12 classes. During the course of his employment, Mr. Fernandes failed to provide grades in a timely manner, made errors in his calculations of the grades, and failed to follow the school’s grading policy regarding incomplete assignments. When asked to submit corrected grades, Mr. Fernandes fabricated grades for students, including marks for assignments that he had not yet graded. He was dismissed without notice in April 2009 for failure to comply with his employment duties and responsibilities. Mr. Fernandes brought a lawsuit against the school, alleging that he had been wrongfully dismissed. While the trial judge found that Mr. Fernandes had falsified grades and attempted to cover up his misconduct from school administration, the conduct was not serious enough to warrant dismissal without notice.
The Court of Appeal overturned the trial judge’s decision. Justice E. E. Gillese referred to the test for dismissing an employee for misconduct laid out in McKinley v BC Tel: whether the employee’s misconduct gave rise to a breakdown in the employment relationship. Justice Gillese went on to stress that teachers occupy a special position trust when it comes to performance of their jobs. One of the most important professional obligations of a teacher is to fairly and properly evaluate and assess student progress and achievement. Mr. Fernandes’ failure to properly evaluate his students and falsify marks were intentional acts of serious misconduct and grounds for dismissal and amounted to a complete breakdown of the employment relationship. The decision is an important reminder that employees who occupy positions of trust can be held to a higher standard.
Written with the assistance of Olga Lenova, summer student.