TORONTO - A teacher at an elite Ottawa private school told a disciplinary hearing Tuesday why she didn't call police when a 16-year-old boy was sexually assaulted by schoolmates in a hotel room on a school trip to Boston.
Alyssa Novick is one of two teachers at Ashbury College who are accused of misconduct by the Ontario College of Teachers. If they're found guilty, Novick and Ian Middleton could lose their teaching certificates.
The two are denying allegations that they failed to immediately notify the student's parents and refused a request from the parents to call the Boston police. Novick is also accused of discouraging the student from going to police and falsely telling the parents that he didn't want to do so.
Testifying at the disciplinary hearing, Novick recalled the night more than four years ago that forever altered several lives.
"I think I have been sexually assaulted," the student told Middleton, Novick said.
She recounted how she, Middleton and the two other teachers on the November 2007 history trip spent about four hours, from about 1 a.m. to 5 a.m., interviewing the students involved and calling their headmaster.
The boy told the teachers that one fellow student held him down while another violated him, a third student videotaped the attack and a fourth sat on the bed and watched.
The main perpetrator — who later pleaded guilty in Boston to assault and battery and was sentenced to four years probation — was dismissive and tried to pass the incident off as a joke, Novick said.
He and the other student who held the boy down were immediately sent home on the next flight to Ottawa, Novick said.
Headmaster Tam Matthews told the teachers he would call Ottawa police, Novick said.
The teachers told the boy he should call his parents to tell them what happened, but he said he didn't want to because he was embarrassed, a third teacher who was on the trip testified.
The next morning the teachers tried again to get the student to call his mom, but he didn't want to, saying she would "freak out," the third teacher told the hearing.
After the boy spoke to his mother, she and Novick exchanged a series of calls throughout that afternoon and the mother was understandably upset, Novick said.
"She was fraught," Novick testified. "She wanted to show (the boy) she wouldn't let these boys get away with this."
After the boy spoke to his parents the father started making arrangements to fly to Boston to take his son to the police there, but the boy didn't want him to because it would "disrupt the trip," Novick said.
"I'm fine," the third teacher overheard the boy say on the phone. "Stop it. Stop it. Stop it."
However, the teacher couldn't say with certainty that the boy was speaking with his parents.
Novick did not, as is alleged, try to stop the parents from going to the Boston police, she said, rather she was trying to ascertain what was happening with the father, who ended up not flying down.
Novick said she asked the mother why she wanted the teacher to take her son to Boston police against her son's wishes. She also told the mother that she wasn't convinced she should take the other two boys without their parents to a police station in Boston to be arrested, she said.
Only after several back-and-forth phone calls did the mother say with certainty that she wanted the teachers to go to police, Novick said.
They again called their headmaster, who said he would call Boston police, even though, as the college's counsel noted, the headmaster was visiting his mother in Peterborough, Ont.
Middleton testified on the first day of the disciplinary hearing on Monday. It is scheduled to sit two more days in February.
The victim's parents have sued the students involved in the assault, the school and the teachers, alleging the situation was handled inappropriately. The teachers and the school have filed statements of defence, the hearing was told Tuesday. None of the civil allegations have been proven in court.
The student who was convicted in Boston apologized in court at the time, saying he used to be "somewhat of a bully." But the victim suggested in a statement to that court that his attacker's words were insincere.
"You have done something horrible and sick, and you must pay for it," the boy said.
Novick told the disciplinary hearing that the case has had a "terrible impact" on her family, including on her two children who attended Ashbury and on her marriage, which ended after 16 years in the aftermath of the Boston trip.
"The truth is that, I know this may sound corny, but all I ever wanted to be was a teacher," she said. "It's not just a job for me. It's who I am."
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