Thursday, 27 October 2016

Duty of Care

I’ll call him Duncan. That wasn’t his name, but that’s what I’ll call him.

His mom called shortly after he enrolled. She wanted to be sure his name would never be used publicly. He had been sexually abused. She did not want the predator to find them. He was registered in an online course and his name appeared to the other students.  We changed his online name.

While I was reviewing his file I discovered he was 13. He was 13 and registered in grade 11 Social Studies and English.  There was no record of him on the provincial database of student information. I phoned his registering school. The lady who was listed as his contact knew nothing about him. She gave me another number to call. A small child answered the phone. Both Mommy and Daddy knew Duncan. Or at least, they knew his name.  I asked what his educational history was and why he had been registered in grade 11. They could not tell me anything other than he had been home-schooled with their programme for years and his mom wanted him in grade 11. She had the legal right to make that decision.

I called Mom again. She told me he was gifted. He had taken grade one in a traditional school but he was smarter than all the other kids so she had home-schooled him. She took him back to school in grade six and he was bored. She tried again in grade nine and that didn’t work so she had enrolled him in grade 11.  I suggested there might be skills and knowledge he was missing. She said he was a genius. Also, he knew everything about computers, in fact he was on one right now. I said I wanted to talk with him and explain how the course worked. No. He did not like talking on the phone. Mom relayed more about the abuse which had occurred over 6 or 7 years during the period she was homeschooling him. The abuser was an uncle or a man who he called uncle. My sense was that it was her boyfriend. She had no idea it was going on. She had a new boyfriend now and they were in B.C. Duncan didn’t like going out. He didn’t have any friends. He sat in his room all day playing video games.

I called the registering school again. Did they know anything about the abuse? Had it been reported? They didn’t know.  I called Social Services. They said he was in B.C. and out of their jurisdiction. I phoned B.C. Social Services. Did I have proof of abuse? No? They were not interested but maybe I should call the truancy officer. I called her. He was registered in an Alberta school. She didn’t care.

My teacher radar was going off. Everything about this was wrong. And I was powerless.

Eventually Duncan started handing in work. It was not close to the level it should be.  I contacted his English teacher. Weird thing, he says. There’s some paragraphs in big pencil letters about how he loves kittens and wants to run away to Vancouver to see Hillary Duff. Then a philosophical treatise in completely different handwriting in pen on Of Mice and Men. We went to see the principal.  “I am very uncomfortable about this”, I told her. We had a conference call with mom.  “We are concerned about your son. This business of him being enrolled in grade 11 isn’t really working for him. We wonder if this is really in his best interests," she says.  “Also. It appears someone else is writing the answers to his questions.”  Mom was indignant. The assistant principal asked to speak to Duncan. No, Mom said. He doesn’t like talking on the phone. Eventually he was withdrawn from our programme.

I sometimes wonder what happened to him. How long did he stay in his room in his apartment in Chilliwack? Did he ever receive a formal education? Did the new boyfriend treat him well or was there more abuse?

Every now and then you have a student whose story haunts you. Duncan’s story haunts me. It haunts me because everyone failed him. The people who were supposed to offer a duty of care failed him. I failed him. The system failed him. I tried so many ways to make things right, but in the end, I never even heard the sound of his voice. 

Maybe no one ever did.



"Duncan" was a student with Wisdom Home Schooling, contractors for Trinity Homeschooling. Trinity recently had its accreditation revoked by the Government of Alberta due to financial mismanagement and lack of student supervision.