Sel Healy says she was appalled when the Alberta government sent her husband a letter in June saying he’d be included in a new public teacher registry set to go live in September.
That’s because Michael “Joe” Healy, a long-time math and science teacher at Calgary’s Bishop Carroll High School, has been dead for more than 15 years.
“I was angry and frustrated, and then I was hurt. I just got really upset,” said Healy, who is a retired teacher herself.
On Sept. 1, the Alberta government plans to launch its first online registry of all teachers, principals and superintendents.
The government says it will include the names of 162,000 teachers certified in the province since 1954, the type of certificate they hold and if it’s active, and information about any suspensions or license cancellations for unprofessional conduct or incompetence.
The changes are part of Bill 85, which the legislature passed last year. The government says the move is one of several changes that will increase the transparency of teacher discipline and improve safety for students.
BC, Saskatchewan and Ontario have similar online registries, but all three remove names from their registries when they’re informed a teacher has died.
Alberta’s education minister says the registry will purposefully include dead teachers so the information is useful and relevant to Albertans.
“If the office of the registrar has been informed that a teacher or teacher leader is deceased, their certificate status will say ‘inactive,'” said Katharine Stavropolous, spokesperson for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange.
The government sent 92,000 emails and 70,000 letters to certified teachers and leaders to inform them of the new registry and say how they could seek an exemption, she said.
Stavropoulos said the letters weren’t intended to cause pain, but relay information.
“We understand that being reminded of a lost loved one is often difficult and can stir memories of their passing, and we empathize with those who had this experience after receiving a letter from us,” she said.
Healy says her long-departed husband has no place in that registry.
The 32-year teacher, who penned a 10-page poem to teach students about the history of atomic models and had colleagues in stitches when his science demonstrations went awry, lived with cancer for more than a decade.
He died unexpectedly at home in 2006 while drinking a glass of wine with his wife.
She said receiving the teacher registry letter brought back the pain of that sudden loss.
“It’s hard to recall. I speak easily about it, but it’s upsetting,” Healy said. “And I could not understand why our own government did not know that person didn’t exist.”
Families upset they have no option to remove deceased relatives
Janelle Melenchuk’s mother also received a letter, addressed to Melenchuk’s late father. He was a teacher and vice-principal in Rimbey, who retired in 2000 and died in 2019.
Melenchuk, who is also a teacher in Red Deer, says if deceased people are included, he raises questions about the government’s stated motivation for the database to protect the public from bad teachers.
The letter to teachers, several copies of which were shared with CBC, instructs teachers to log into an information system, should they wish to request to be exempted from the registry for legal or safety reasons. Family members don’t have access to that, Melenchuk said.
“I don’t like that my dad doesn’t have the ability to say, ‘No thanks. I don’t want to be a part of this,’ ” she said.
The education ministry says exemptions will be “rare” and granted in cases where court orders prevent publication of the information or the teacher’s safety is at risk.
Stavropoulos said the ministry is still evaluating people’s applications for exemptions, and has yet to grant any. Any teacher who has applied for an exemption will be excluded from the public list until the registrar has made a decision, she said. She did not say how many had applied.
Family members can contact Alberta Education’s registrar to report a teacher as deceased or ask to apply for an exemption, she said.
A Moose Jaw, Sask., woman was also surprised to learn her husband would be listed.
Gordon Jago last taught in Alberta in 1977, which was the year they moved to Moose Jaw, his wife Terry Jago said in an email. Gordon stopped teaching in 2007, and died in 2018. He is not listed in the Saskatchewan Professional Teachers Regulatory Board Registry.
When Jago received the letter about the Alberta teacher registry, she sent an email to the registrar asking for Gordon’s name to be removed. She’s concerned about potential identity theft and the accuracy of the information.
She says the education ministry replied with an “odd and wave” message that left her unsure about whether he would be included.
“What dismays me is that the government of Alberta would consider him a registered teacher after 40 some years not teaching in Alberta,” she said. “Surely there is a re-registration process for someone who would be 73 this year?”