Nunavut Education seeks “normalcy” in wake of Coral Harbour controversy
Facebook posting of doctored ISIS photo upset parents, students, staff
A Nunavut teacher at Sakku School in Coral Harbour remains suspended after he posted a photo on Facebook that caused many outraged parents to keep their kids at home this week.
“It was an unfortunate incident. It’s regretful that it happened and from our perspective from the department, it’s something that we would never like to see happen ever because we like the focus in the schools to be around learning,” said the Nunavut education department’s deputy minister John MacDonald, who spoke to Nunatsiaq News March 29.
The photo in question shows a screen shot from a video of the 2015 execution of American journalist James Foley by ISIS, the militant group called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
But the image in the screen shot has been changed to show the smiling face of Grade 9 teacher Moses Suzuki, pasted instead of Foley’s face on top of his orange-clothed body.
The photo of a local Inuk woman, raised in Coral Harbour and a convert to Islam, who sources say was in a relationship with Suzuki, has been inserted at the right, next to the knife-wielding ISIS executioner, dressed in black.
“It’s a really an unfortunate judgment error and it’s led to a great deal of media attention and consternation, to say the least, in the community—and certainly the staff has been upset and it’s disturbed the education program in Sakku School,” MacDonald said, describing the posting of the photo as “an isolated incident.”
“So I think more poeple would understand that the actions of one invidividual don’t reflect on other employees or other civil servants.”
MacDonald said he couldn’t comment on what will happen to Suzuki who is on a paid leave from his teaching duties at the school during an investigation into the incident.
But meanwhile, MacDonald said his department is working to rebuild trust with the community of Coral Harbour and see everyone get back to school at Sakku School, which serves roughly 300 students.
“It would be great for this to conclude and for our staff and students to get back to teaching and learning,” MacDonald said. “We’re looking to return to normalcy.”
MacDonald said he wouldn’t describe the upheaval around the Facebook post as a crisis situation and his department has not sent in experts to help deal with the incident.
The education department, which has issued memos on cyberbulling and sexting in the past plans—among other possible measures—to re-circulate policy information on social media use to all schools in Nunavut, he said.
MacDonald said he couldn’t recall another similar instance involving a controversy over an educator’s use of social media.
But in other Canadian jurisdictions, school staff have previously faced consequences over Facebook postings.
Some high school teachers in Ontario were criticized by parents after a group photo showed them giving the finger, and a teacher in Manitoba, who had posted comments on Facebook about First Nations people, was first put on paid administrative leave, and then later on unpaid leave, after an investigation.
The Supreme Court of Canada has deemed that teachers’ off-duty conduct, even when not directly related to students, is relevant to their suitability to teach.
“Public school teachers assume a position of influence and trust over their students and must be seen to be impartial and tolerant. By their conduct, teachers, as a ‘medium’ of the educational message (the values, beliefs and knowledge sought to be transmitted by the school system), must be perceived as upholding that message,” the court said in a 1996 judgment.