Greater Essex Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario

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Teacher not guilty of biting student
Judge criticizes police in 90-minute verdict

Sarah Sacheli
Windsor Star
January 28, 2005

A former kindergarten teacher says she will fight to get her job back after being found not guilty Thursday of biting a four-year-old boy in her classroom.

Deborah McConkey, 35, a teacher for 10 years, was acquitted of assault related to an Oct. 9, 2003, incident at Queen Victoria Public School.

In a judgment that took 90 minutes to read, Ontario court Justice Sharman Bondy was critical of the police investigation into the case and pointed to discrepancies in witness testimony.

"I am left with two competing versions of what had occurred."

She said she could not find McConkey guilty because the Crown simply "did not meet the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt."

McConkey's many supporters in court -- her parents, family friends and members of her church -- hugged after the verdict.

McConkey would not comment after the verdict.

"Obviously, we're delighted," said her father, William. The University of Windsor professor refused to comment further, referring questions to defence lawyer Michael Kruse.

"This is as close to a total vindication you'll ever get from a court," said Kruse. "Those were very strong reasons for judgment."

But the victim's mother said she was angry and disappointed by the verdict. Describing herself as "in shock," she said she regrets putting her son, now 5, through the rigours of testifying.

"The only reason for doing that to him was so that no other child would be hurt. But now with this outcome I regret it."

McConkey was banned from the classroom after the incident and was fired after a board investigation. Her union, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, will argue for her reinstatement at an arbitration hearing next month.

"If they refuse to give her her job back, there will be a wrongful dismissal proceeding," Kruse said.

But school board superintendent Steven Snider said the verdict in the criminal case has no bearing on the board's position.

"We're concerned with the highest level of care of children," he said. "It is a standard of care that we feel was not being met by Miss McConkey."

McConkey is also the subject of an investigation by the Ontario College of Teachers, the licensing body for teachers in the province. The board, when it took disciplinary action against McConkey, notified the college of her alleged professional misconduct. Such notification is required by law.

Lois Browne, college spokeswoman, said she couldn't comment on McConkey's case, but said a verdict in a criminal court has no bearing on college proceedings.

"A member can be found guilty of professional misconduct even if they've been found not guilty of criminal charges," Browne said.

Teachers found guilty of professional misconduct by a college disciplinary hearing panel could lose their licences.