If your client has insurance through South Western Group, the addition of Legal Expense Insurance…
Stephen Wright* (name changed to protect identity) was living a wonderful life. A respected vice-principal, loving husband and family man, he had no idea that his world was about to crumble. And then, without warning, his personal and professional standing was put in jeopardy by a teacher who falsely accused him of sexual harassment. The allegation led to criminal charges, a potential employment problem and a college complaint.
Fortunately, Wright had Legal Expense Insurance for Principals and Vice-Principals. This very specialized insurance has been available to administrators in Ontario since 1998, and is designed to protect the administrator’s employment and professional status. It provides payment for the legal fees incurred by lawyers specializing in the education field, for representation for human rights and college complaints, defense against criminal charges such as harassment or assault, fitness to practice or misconduct issues, disciplinary matters and disputes relating to contracts of employment.
For Wright, this coverage gave him the legal representation that he needed until he was cleared of all charges, and also provided him with valuable support during an extremely stressful period. Ultimately he was able to regain his previously untarnished reputation in the community.
In another case, a principal with more than fifteen years of excellent service received a poor evaluation after a new director was appointed at her board. With the benefit of Legal Expense Insurance, she received legal assistance in responding to the evaluation, which forced the board to substantiate its negative findings, which it could not. As a result, a premature transfer or termination of employment was prevented. This case provides an excellent example of how the mere knowledge that a lawyer is advocating on behalf of a principal can make school boards more accountable for their actions.Principals and vice-principals increasingly find themselves in situations where legal representation could be required. Numerous problems facing principals today fall well outside school operating policies and board or ministry guidelines such as human rights issues and sexual harassment. While administrators can look to supervisory officers and board trustees for some guidance, in many cases the principal is entering into uncharted territories, some of which can have significant legal ramifications.Legal Expense Insurance (LEI) for Principals and Vice-Principals helps to bridge this gap. In addition to legal representation for specific complaints or charges, LEI offers a confidential toll-free Telephone Legal Advisory (TLA) service that connects school administrators to a lawyer for immediate telephone assistance. In many cases, obtaining timely legal advice has been proven to defuse potentially difficult situations and can provide an early resolution to problems.
For those without Legal Expense Insurance and access to a Telephone Legal Advisory (TLA) service, the following list of “Do’s and Don’ts” can assist principals in finding the proper balance between individual student rights and the safety of an entire school population. The bottom line for any principal is to seek professional independent advice whenever necessary.
“School administrators should always remember that there are professionals out there to assist them,” advised a TLA lawyer, “When in doubt, they should always contact their supervisory officer, a lawyer, legal service or support staff.”
- Do be proactive – Always ensure that your records are thorough and up to date.
- Do know the limits of your authority. If you suspect a criminal activity has taken place, telephone the police.
- Do become knowledgeable of board policies concerning harassment, warrantless searches and human rights.
- Do uphold your responsibility to protect your students while in your care. If a child is in jeopardy, call the appropriate authorities, i.e.
police or Children’s Aid.
- Do know your rights and statutory responsibilities.
- Do maintain your professional detachment, but retain your accessibility and compassion.
- Do strive to maintain good labour/management relations in all of your dealings.
- Do make detailed written notes while your memory is fresh for your use only.
- Do store sensitive personal notes and records off school property where they are always accessible to you.
- Don’t over-react or act impulsively. Seek professional assistance (employee assistance plan or legal advice) instead.
- Don’t respond verbally or in writing without first seeking advice.
- Don’t consult a friend for advice.
- Don’t attempt to handle a problem alone.
- Don’t procrastinate or delay in taking action. Dealing with matters as soon as possible will help to avoid inflaming a situation.
- Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated. If you feel physically threatened by a parent or student, call your community police officer.
- Don’t elaborate if called to testify in criminal or administrative proceedings, unless specifically directed to do otherwise. Generally speaking, giving “yes” or “no” answers is always the best policy
Effective September 1, 2004, Legal Expense Insurance for Principals and Vice-Principals, (which includes the Telephone Legal Advisory service), previously only available in Ontario, is available across Canada. The insurance covers a number of areas affecting this profession, including criminal charges, employment disputes and complaints to professional regulatory bodies/colleges.