A former Slave Lake teacher persisted in massaging the necks, backs, shoulders and feet of students despite three warnings from the school principal in three years, a teacher disciplinary committee heard Wednesday.
Former junior and senior high school teacher Patrick Lu was also reprimanded twice by then principal Trevor Mitchell for using language that demeaned students, Alberta Teachers' Association presenting officer Dave Matson told a three-member hearing panel.
“Not only is it contrary to conventional wisdom for a teacher not to massage … a student of the opposite sex, it is a clear departure from behaviour one would expect in a normal teacher-student relationship," Matson said as he implored the committee to find Lu guilty of four counts of professional misconduct.
Lu, 36, is accused of disrespecting students at St. Francis Assisi Catholic school by calling them "stupid" and "dumb," crossing boundaries by telling students about the breakup of his relationship and thoughts of suicide, and making racial remarks such as calling First Nations students "brown."
Three students, Mitchell and two other school staff members testified Monday and Tuesday about Lu's behaviour between 2012, when the school opened, and November 2015, when Lu went on medical leave.
Lu, who testified in his own defence Wednesday, has not taught since 2015, but may want to teach again, he said.
Lu said he massaged the backs and shoulders of students only when they consented, and for their health and safety. He used words like "yellow" and "brown" to refer to races, and called a First Nations student "cousin" to endear himself to students he had worked with for years, he said.
Witnesses who heard him say words like "stupid" misunderstood him, he said — he was calling the actions of students stupid, not the students themselves.
Lu said he told students about his relationship woes to help them learn from his experiences. He denied students' recollections of him saying he would "drink himself to death" or that he should drink a poisonous science lab experiment.
Lu's lawyer, Brian Beresh, argued the teachers' association code of conduct holds professionals to an impossible standard, and that students could benefit from Lu's candour.
Beresh said the three students who testified are best friends and likely "colluded" to concoct the stories, based on inconsistencies in their testimony. He also said Lu was once involved in disciplining one of the students who testified against him.
As school principal, Mitchell wouldn't have left Lu in charge as acting principal when Mitchell was absent if he doubted his professionalism, Beresh said.
The committee is now contemplating Lu's fate.
If a committee finds a teacher guilty of misconduct, they can issue letters of reprimand, levy fines, or even recommend the education minister suspend or revoke the teacher's professional certificate.