The Alberta Teachers Association has fined and permanently revoked a Grasslands’ teacher’s eligibility for membership in the Association and has also recommended to the Minister of Education that he cancel the teaching certificate of a former Brooks teacher.
Frieda Anne Mennes, 65, faces $32,500 in fines for unprofessional conduct towards students, staff and parents over a period dating back to 1981. A hearing into the matter was held Nov. 26 after a complaint was filed with the ATA.
All teachers in Alberta’s public schools must have a valid Alberta teaching certificate and must be members of the ATA. As such, any teacher unable to maintain an Alberta teaching certificate or membership in the ATA cannot be employed with a public school board of education, said Grasslands superintendent Scott Brandt.
Mennes taught in several Grasslands schools but spent most of her career in Bassano. In 2012, she was transferred to a school in Brooks where she taught until November 2016 when a complaint by a Grasslands employee was filed. She then went on paid leave.
ATA Conduct committee chair Stephani Clements declared Mennes guilty on eight charges including taking actions and making comments to students between 1981 and 2016 which failed to treat students with dignity and respect and treated students differently based on their academic abilities. Clements said none of the decisions were made lightly.
Mennes was also found guilty of behaving unprofessionally towards Grasslands central office staff, making inaccurate and unprofessional statements about school and board office administrators, refusing to address concerns from parents or grandparents, retaliating against students’ parents or grandparents, making false allegations against her principal and sending inflammatory and critical anonymous letters about colleagues to the district superintendent and school board.
The conduct committee heard from 60 witnesses, including students as young as fifth graders before ruling in the case against Mennes.
The hearing lasted 23 days between last March and November in both Edmonton and Brooks. During this time, teachers, district staff, past and present students and parents described the woman as one who retaliated against those who raised concerns about her.
ATA presenting officer Konni deGoeij is quoted as stating at the hearing the case is an ugly undercurrent of disdainful conduct to students.
She said teachers testified about “deprogramming” Mennes’s students the following year so they would feel less anxious in class and be willing to take more academic risks.
She further stated support staff who worked with the teacher said they went home in tears and lost sleep over what they witnessed but as contract employees they felt powerless to complain about her.
Division superintendent Scott Brandt said he is glad the division has got to the point where the decision has been finalized.
“It’s something that I recognize is stressful for a variety of reasons for a variety of people,” he said.
In a division release, Brandt stated, “The Grasslands Public School Division is committed to providing a welcoming, caring, respectful and safe learning environment that respects diversity and fosters a sense of belonging. When allegations are made, they are taken seriously and acted on with great care. Situations like this are complex and we have to respect the complaint process.
As a rule, parent concerns need to be brought to the attention of the teacher first. If a satisfactory solution is not reached, the parent should approach the school administration who will facilitate a process to arrive at alternative solutions.
“As superintendent, I can attest that teachers and principals, working as partners with parents, resolve the vast majority of parental concerns. If a parent has followed the process and is dissatisfied with the outcome of the concern, they can bring the concern forward to Central Office administration. Central Office will review the information and ascertain if all avenues for resolution have been considered. We base our actions on the information that comes forward and we strive to address concerns in a timely fashion. We ensure that the processes we follow are thorough, fair, and impartial.”
He said this was a difficult situation and while the outcome was being determined, the board acted in the best interests of students and staff.”
Mennes told reporters upon leaving the hearing in Edmonton that she is innocent will appeal the ruling.