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B.C. elementary school teacher suspended for cracking backs, pinching trapeziuses

Students called the one moved the ‘back-breaker,’ and several said it was painful
A classroom in Scarborough, Ont., on September 14, 2020. A North Vancouver School District teacher was suspended for five days in May 2022 for taking inappropriate actions against his elementary school students. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

A North Vancouver teacher was suspended for five days in May after numerous of his elementary school students reported him using unconventional punitive measures on them.

The B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation received four complaints about Sylvain Joseph-Leo Desbiens between July and October 2019.

Parents told the commissioner Desbiens was regularly performing a move on boys in his Grade 4 and 5 classes known by them as the “back-breaker.” Students say Desbiens would place his knee in their backs while pulling backwards on their arms and shoulders, without using his full strength.

Some students perceived it as punishment, the commissioner found, and on one occasion a group of them nominated a classmate to “sacrifice” themselves for the treatment, so others wouldn’t have to experience it.

In other instances, the commissioner says Desbiens would pinch a student’s trapezius muscles to the point where it hurt. He was also known to pretend to strike students by slapping one of his hands into the palm of his other hand above their heads. Once, the commissioner found, he accidentally hit a student’s head doing this.

The commissioner says Desbiens told the class he would bring a whip to school, leading students to believe it would be used to punish them. At least one student said they were scared of Desbiens.

One parent told the commissioner Desbiens purposefully picked on their Grade 5 child. They said one time Desbiens picked up their child and moved them because they were supposedly standing in the wrong spot.

Desbiens then reportedly said, “Oh, I thought you were in Grade 4 because you are so small!” and “(Student A) is always so lost.”

READ ALSO: Comox Valley teacher suspended for use of vulgar language and profanities toward students

A parent complained to Desbiens about his methods in 2018 and the district suspended him for three days without pay in 2019, along with requirements to attend a counselling session on boundaries and expectations.

Earlier in his career, while working in Vancouver, Desbiens was also reprimanded for using masking tape to tape shut a student’s mouth.

Given this history and the four new complaints, the commissioner decided to suspend Desbiens for five days and have him take a course on positive learning environments.

Desbiens has been a teacher in B.C. since 1997.

READ ALSO: B.C. teacher transferred then suspended after students report feeling ‘scared, nervous’

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About the Author: Jane Skrypnek

Hi, I'm a provincial reporter with Black Press Media, where I've worked since 2020.
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