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No end in sight

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It will be eight weeks on Wednesday since the now-notorious lewd lap dance with simulated oral sex took place at a school spirit event in the Churchill High gym.

The careers of the two teachers are still in limbo.

Winnipeg School Division isn’t saying when it will finally decide their fate.

Details of the incident are only coming out a little bit here, a little bit there.

It was only late Thursday that WSD officials actually used the word ‘Churchill’ for the first time, and it was also the first time that the division acknowledged that the on-going heretofore unspecified and undetailed personnel matter involved the suspension of two teachers, one male, one female, and that as of March 2 and 3 respectively, they were suspended without pay. That was 50 days after the initial incident.

We’ve all known the names of those teachers since a couple of days after they were suspended. Student-shot films of the lap dancing went viral on YouTube.

So far, the teachers have declined to be interviewed. We believe that the male teacher is newly graduated from university and was on a term contract. We know that the woman has taught in several other schools in Winnipeg and the Selkirk area.

Most of what we’ve learned in the last few weeks comes from trustee Mike Babinsky, whom the rest of the board and senior administration long ago gave up expecting to maintain the secrecy that prevails in the division.

Indeed, Babinsky says that the senior administration has not even told the trustees the names of the two teachers. Board chair Jackie Sneesby says that there is nothing coming before the board behind closed doors at its regular meeting this evening. Trustees have been asked if they’re available for a tentative special meeting next Monday at 5 p.m., but staff haven’t told the trustees the subject of the meeting — and why should the trustees know, after all, they’re only in charge.

We now know the timeline. The teachers performed the lap dance on Feb. 17, a Wednesday. The next day, a parent phoned the Churchill principal. He called the division later that Thursday, and the two teachers were told to stay at home the next day. They were suspended with pay.

That Monday, Feb. 22, says Babinsky, human resources director Eugene Gerbasi’s mother died. In his absence, other staff declined to make a decision on the status of the suspensions. Gerbasi returned to work March 1, and called the two teachers in individually over the next two days, and informed them that they were henceforth suspended without pay.

The division hasn’t told trustees whether the union has grieved the loss of pay, and the Winnipeg Teachers Association won’t say. The Manitoba Teachers’ Society won’t even acknowledge that any teacher is suspended.

Why it’s taken almost eight weeks and counting to investigate the incident isn’t clear. The division is certainly aware that two careers are on the line, and that there are all sorts of potential legal actions that could come out of any disciplinary action, but there was a finite number of staff and students in that gym to be interviewed.

None of this is doing people at Churchill any good as the situation goes on and on and on. Yes, I’m well aware of the people who contend that we should have dropped ongoing coverage long ago, and that we’re the ones to blame.

Thursday, WSD requested that I take down the website story which first raised Gerbasi’s role in the process and the effect his personal loss had on the process, and WSD requested that I make no further reference to Gerbasi in any story. I told WSD that Gerbasi’s role in the process is an integral part of the story. Yes, I brought WSD’s request to the attention of my editors.

Friday, I received an email from someone requesting that I remove the lap dancing videos from our website. I told him that I have absolutely no ability to post, amend or remove anything on the website, but would pass the request on to the appropriate people here. I asked on what basis he was making the request. He told me he represents the teachers at Churchill, and that the incident has really taken a toll on them. I checked the WSD website, went to the link to Churchill’s website, and clicked on the high school’s list of all staff by name and email address; I then told this fellow that he isn’t listed as a teacher at Churchill, and asked on what basis he is representing the teachers. That was Friday, and I haven’t heard back from him.

This isn’t going to go away, and the longer it goes on, and the longer that WSD waits to be forthcoming about what happened Feb. 17 and its impact on the teachers’ careers and on the children in that gym, the greater the toll it will exact.

 

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About Nick Martin

Nick Martin is the old bearded guy at the back of the newsroom, the most experienced reporter at the Winnipeg Free Press, having started his career in Ontario in 1971.

He’s been covering education for the Free Press since the spring of 1997, after decades primarily covering municipal politics, including a four-year stint at the Ontario legislature for the London Free Press.

Nick moved to Manitoba in 1988 with his Winnipeg-born wife, who is a professor at the University of Manitoba. They have two kids, both of whom graduated from Grant Park High School: son Chris and daughter Gillian.

Nick has won a national journalism award from the Canadian Association of University Teachers, two Manitoba Human Rights Journalism awards, and the Ontario Reporters Association investigative award.

Nick is a long-distance runner, having finished and survived 18 marathons and 15 half-marathons and 30-kilometre races, and having (barely) survived 10 years as an outdoor and indoor soccer coach.

Nick became a soccer referee in 2007, delighting in his 60s in outrunning 16-year-olds and keeping his distance from obstreperous coaches and parents.

Nick and his wife have discovered a mutual love for kayaking at their Whiteshell cottage, and are both regulars at the Reh-Fit Centre. They hold season tickets to both the Manitoba Theatre Centre and the Warehouse, and as empty nesters, have rediscovered the joys of an active winter vacation.

A native of Jarrow-on-Tyne, England, Nick is a member of the Toon Army as a Newcastle United supporter, and a proud citizen of Leafs Nation.

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