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Waldorf Academy warned about teacher prior to sexual assault charges

Ryan McCombe, 41, who taught at the Waldorf Academy, was charged earlier this year with sexual assaults dating back to 2008 involving minors that took place outside the school. He is also charged with sexual exploitation, sexual interference and making child pornography. Police believe there may be other victims.

Toronto Police Service

A Toronto private school was warned by a therapist about alleged inappropriate behaviour by one of its teachers nearly two years before he was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault.

The Waldorf Academy felt it could not legally suspend or dismiss the teacher after he denied the allegations and the Children's Aid Society declined to investigate because the complainant was more than 16 years old. Instead, according to a confidential review obtained by The Globe and Mail, administrators decided to let the teacher continue to teach elementary-school children and to monitor his behaviour informally.

Ryan McCombe, who taught at the Waldorf Academy, was charged earlier this year with sexual assaults dating back to 2008 involving minors that took place outside the school. He is also charged with sexual exploitation, sexual interference and making child pornography. Police believe there may be other victims.

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The allegations have not been proven in court.

Mr. McCombe, 41, has been suspended indefinitely without pay, the school said. The incident, however, raises questions about whether the school should have allowed him to work closely with children, and even accompany them on an overnight camping trip, after receiving the warning.

The school's head said in a statement to The Globe that Waldorf has since strengthened its security procedures.

"Our school has conducted an independent review about whether the steps taken by our school in the handling of this matter, including what our school knew prior to the arrests, were reasonable and appropriate. The investigator concluded that they were, and we shared these findings with our community," said Dean Husseini, Waldorf's managing facilitator.

But a parent who asked that her name not be used because her children attend the school said she hoped administrators would take more responsibility for their actions.

"I think it's inexcusable," the parent said. "I don't understand why they didn't do more. It makes me really sad that they thought they could be the ones to look after it, instead of getting extra help. You don't have to fire him, but you have to properly investigate."

The school is near Spadina Road and Dupont Street, and infuses the arts in all academic disciplines.

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The school received a letter in September, 2014, from an "unregulated psychotherapist" alleging inappropriate behaviour between one of its teachers and the therapist's clients six years earlier, according to the independent reviewer. The letter did not disclose if the alleged activity had taken place at the school. The school contacted the CAS, which declined to investigate. A CAS Toronto spokesman said on Tuesday that he could not comment on this particular incident, but said that "if the case does not present a current or immediate risk to a child under the age of 16, then typically a CAS wouldn't investigate."

The school's legal counsel encouraged the therapist to have her client report the incident to the police. When asked by The Globe if it contacted police, the school said it was advised at the time by legal counsel that police would not be able to address the incident because it was an anonymous, unsubstantiated claim concerning an incident alleged to have happened off school property.

After questioning the teacher, the Waldorf Academy's legal counsel determined there was insufficient evidence for the school to act upon, and while an administrator informally monitored the teacher, no formal restrictions were put in place, the report stated.

The teacher accompanied two overnight school field trips last year.

The investigator concluded that the school's handling of the situation at the time was "reasonable and appropriate."

"Likewise, the decision to maintain a teacher who was the subject of an anonymous, historical complaint without formal restrictions was reasonable in view of these facts," the investigator wrote.

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Carla Pereira, a spokeswoman for the Peel District School Board, said in the event of a complaint in Peel, the staff member would be sent home with pay pending an investigation. "We would err on the side of caution even if the victim wasn't named," she said.

In a letter to parents last month, Waldorf Academy's board chair Karen Koszo admitted that safety policies and procedures at the school were "underdeveloped and in need of expert attention" at the time. Responding regarding the teacher's presence with students on overnight trips, she wrote: "Certainly, with what we have learned from the experts throughout this process, our response in the wake of such a situation again would be significantly different today."

She added: "We feel the immediate crisis has been addressed, and our school is safer."

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Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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