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BC teacher suspended for 5 days after using 'back-breaker' hold on elementary school students

A British Columbia teacher has been suspended for five days after using a “back-breaker” hold on his elementary school students.

Sylvain Joseph-Leo Desbiens also pinched his students “to the point where it hurt” and on one occasion accidentally hit one of the children under his supervision, according to a BC Commissioner for Teacher Regulation report published this week.

According to the report, “more than one student” found the “back-breaker” technique – which included Desbiens putting his knee into a child’s back and pulling back their arms and shoulders – to be painful.

The report adds, however, that Desbiens would not use his "full strength” while holding the children.

Between July and October 2019, three parents complained to the Commissioner about Desbiens.

<who> Photo credit: 123RF

His North Vancouver school district also made a report to the Commissioner, in September of 2019.

One of the complaints concerned events that took place between September and October of 2018.

While Desbiens was teaching a Grade 4/5 class, he performed the “back-breaker” – which, the report says, was reserved for male students – on a child referred to as “Student A.”

Desbiens told Student A, who was in Grade 5, that he looked like he was in Grade 4 “because you are so small.”

The teacher then told a classmate of Student A’s that Student A “is always lost.”

Between April and June of 2019, Desbiens attracted complaints from two other parents for his use of the “back-breaker” in a Grade 5 class.

The report notes that on one occasion, students would nominate one among their number to “sacrifice” themselves to the hold so the others would be spared.

“At least one student reported being afraid of Desbiens,” the report explains.

One child – “Student C” – was pinched “to the point where it hurt.”

Desbiens would also “pretend to strike students by forcefully slapping one of his hands into his open palm above their heads,” the report explains.

“On one occasion, he accidentally made contact with a student’s head while doing this,” the document states.

The report also explains the teacher told his class “he would bring a whip to school, implying that it would be used to punish students.”

The Commissioner noted that Desbiens had previously been issued a letter of expectation by a school in Vancouver after he used masking tape to seal shut a student’s mouth.

Desbiens was found guilty of professional misconduct by the Commissioner and, alongside his five-day suspension, told he must go on a course about creating a positive learning environment.

In determining the punishment, the Commissioner said that Desbiens had “jeopardized the physical and emotional safety of the students in his class.”

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