One of the attractions of public-school teaching for me is job security, so it’s ironic that I’m about to be terminated. This is my story.
October 2019 – In my first month at my new school (WJ Mouat Secondary, in Abbotsford, BC), I had a Letter of Expectation put in my file after a mother complained about my teaching. She was upset by her daughter’s mark on an assignment and by a joke I had made about the University of Northern British Columbia (where my son was at school at the time) being the University of No Better Choice. The joke triggered the whole family because a member of the family had graduated from UNBC.
December 2019 – Because I had challenged the Letter of Expectation, the principal upped his game and gave me a Letter of Investigation over inconsequential allegations relating to teaching out of the box. I had shown a French Revolution video to Grade 12 history students where someone was guillotined, and I had played a commercial for Sasha Baron Cohen’s film, The Dictator, which was contextually appropriate as we were studying dictatorship. It was also alleged that I used the French endearment ma chérie one day in class. As an experienced teacher, I knew students could claim offense over my words, learning resources, and humour, even by cartoons after the massacre of artists at the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine in Paris. Indeed, in 2020, French history teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded for showing cartoons.
March 2020 – I was slapped with a Letter of Suspension after discussing the notorious Paul Bernardo case with students in Grades 10 and 12, as Bernardo was all over the news. I had overheard students talking about him and later told them how he was caught. The next day I was walked out of school mid class. I sensed I had to go easy on news of violence, but at the same time I was encouraged to show the news clip of Derek Chauvin suffocating George Floyd – it informed students about white-on-black police violence.
March to September 2020 – I was docked two days’ pay, sent over spring break for re-education to the B.C. Justice Institute, and given an indefinite suspension (which lasted seven months). During this time, I unwittingly committed more infractions, such as “breach[ing] confidentiality requirements” by communicating with my school substitute. Months after leaving the school I was informed for the first time of an allegation from a student who said I’d told the class I hoped my cancer-stricken wife died so I could have a better wife. (What I told the class was that I would be away from school for a period of time to support my wife during a risky bone-marrow transplant and heavy chemotherapy.)
October 2020 to May 2021 – I was back at school and having a successful academic year until early May, when the student who initiated my suspension in March 2020 was again placed in one of my 4th-quarter classes, despite requests from me to have her placed with another teacher. At the end of the first week she went to the principal with six allegations, prompting him to open a second investigation. One allegation was I wasn’t wearing my face shield properly, another that I made a “sexist inference.” I left the school and a became a wandering Teacher on Call (TOC).
May 31, 2021 – I went this day as a TOC to Robert Bateman Secondary where news was feverishly spread about the discovery of the remains of 215 children in a mass grave at the site of the long-shuttered Kamloops Indian Residential School. The principal used the PS system to ask teachers to navigate the upsetting news with students. In this context, I answered a girl who described the school’s teachers (Sisters of St. Ann and Oblate priests and brothers) as “murderers who tortured students to death by leaving them out in the snow” by saying the children who died tragically while enrolled in residential schools did so mostly from disease. The girl complained to a counsellor, who told the principal, who told the district, and before class was over I had a visit from two male administrators who asked me to gather my things and leave.
June 1, 2012 to January 2022 – The next day I received a Letter of Suspension announcing an indefinite suspension. The letter contained two allegations, the first that I had described Venus in teaching the etymology of the word vendredi as a “Greek/Roman god who favoured girls,” when what I had written on the board was “Roman goddess of love and beauty.” This allegation was quickly dropped, but the second (about children dying from disease) has stuck to this day.
January 2022 – My suspension ended after eight months when the district released its investigator’s report, to which senior management appended a charge of professional misconduct, as the following shows:
“While acting as a TOC for a Calculus 12 class, Mr. McMurtry…inferring [sic] that many of the deaths were due to disease was in opinion inflammatory, inappropriate, insensitive, and contrary to the district’s message of condolences and reconciliation” (pp. 10-11 of the district’s investigation report).
“He left students with the impression some or all of the deaths could be contributed to ‘natural causes’ and that the deaths could not be called murder” (p. 13).
“Both Mr. McMurtry and student accounts had some students passionately saying the deaths were murder, [and] the graves were mass graves” (p. 15).
“I consider this to be extremely serious professional misconduct” (p. 13).
November 2022 – I am still not teaching, but a fortuitous interview on Rebel News adduced proof that the children died from disease, and that there was no discovery at all in Kamloops. No graves. No bodies. No police investigation. Although our country had lowered its flag for five months and all federal MPs had passed a motion to recognize residential schools as a scene of genocide, all that archaeologist Sarah Beaulieu likely found were sewage tiles or trenches from 1924.
January 2023 – A disciplinary meeting with trustees will determine my fate.