Privacy commissioner sides with teacher

Barb Sweet
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School board urged to develop clear terms around collecting personal information

The province’s privacy commissioner has found the former Eastern School District in violation of a half dozen sections of the act he is the watchdog for.
“The complainant submitted a privacy complaint alleging that Eastern School District (now Newfoundland and Labrador English School District) had inappropriately collected and disclosed her personal information and had failed to adequately protect her personal information,” said Ed Ring’s report on breaches of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (ATIPPA).

“The complainant also expressed concerns about how her personal information was being protected and used by (the board).”

The complaint was filed in 2012 by a teacher who has now been on leave for three years and is still in arbitration with the English School District.

Her troubles with the board began with a harassment complaint filed against co-workers.

Two complaints were dismissed, and prior to the board investigating the remaining two harassment complaints, it hired an outside agency to “assess the professional relationships” in the complainant’s workplace, and placed the harassment complaints on hold pending the outcome of the assessment, Ring noted.

The teacher thought the consultant was supposed to be a mediator. But it turned out the consultant was a psychologist who produced a report that was “used to make decisions that directly affected the complainant,” Ring noted, adding it is unclear whether the consultant was acting as an investigator, mediator, psychologist or all three.

Those decisions included referring the teacher for counselling, and she was ultimately granted leave.

The breaches include how her personal information was shared.

“I question whether (the board) has taken appropriate steps to educate its employees about appropriate disclosures of personal information, specifically with respect to disclosing the minimum amount of information necessary to accomplish the purpose for which it was collected,” Ring said of the breaches, which included giving a copy of a letter regarding counselling plans to the school principal.

“It was not necessary for the fulfillment of his duties, and given the situation between the complainant and the principal, it is an unreasonable invasion of her privacy.”

Ring also noted a true psychological assessment was never conducted, but the complainant did attend sessions with the psychologist and five reports were sent to the board.

The teacher had agreed to see the psychologist on the basis of dealing with the workplace conflict.

However, a senior board official called the psychologist to express concerns about the teacher’s mental state.

But the psychologist’s notes from that initial meeting indicate it did not appear that the complainant had “negotiated with the board for a psych assessment,” the ATIPPA report noted.

"The complainant did participate in counselling sessions with the psychologist, and the reports back to (the board) from the psychologist indicated only that the complainant had been negatively impacted by the workplace issues (and the prolonged process of dealing with them), and contained recommendations regarding continued counselling and return to work," Ring said.

"Nothing in the assessment reports indicated that the complainant was suffering mental illness or paranoia."

Ring made four recommendations to the board:

—   When outside professionals are engaged, the board should develop clear terms of engagement, including the purpose of collecting personal information.

—    There should also be a policy for outside professionals outlining their responsibilities and obligations under ATIPPA.

—    The board must take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy and completeness of personal information if it is using to make decisions about a person.

—    Employees, especially those in human resources, should be made aware of their obligation to protect personal information against unauthorized disclosures.

In a statement to The Telegram, the board said it  received a copy of the report and has co-operated  throughout its review of the matter.

“We believe the (Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner) has provided us with some important guidance which we will thoroughly review in an effort to enhance our practices,” the statement from spokesman Ken Morrissey said.

"While we have just received the report of the OIPC, and this matter is related to an ongoing court case, overall we accept the intent of the recommendations and have already begun a process to review the district’s current practices."

Organizations: English School District.Her

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