September 15, 2021
A man who has been criminally convicted of assaulting a teenaged student and has been stripped of his teaching licence for professional misconduct and sexual abuse is now the principal of a private high school that caters largely to international boarding students, CBC News has learned.
Anthony “Antonio” Ross pleaded guilty in 2019 after police laid a charge of assault against him in 2018.
He now works at Convoy International Secondary Academy [CISA], which charges students about $10,000 a year in tuition. Public records show it’s owned by a numbered company based in Ontario and another company based in Beijing, China.
According to the school’s website, Antonio Ross has been the school’s principal and educational consultant since at least 2019.
CISA has two campuses: classrooms in an office building on Yonge Street in Markham, Ont., and a nearly nine-hectare campus near Barrie, Ont., that provides boarding accommodations.
Neither Ross nor CISA responded to numerous questions from CBC News.
Ross can legally work at private school
There is nothing legally preventing someone convicted of a crime or stripped of their teaching licence from working at a private school.
Under provincial law, only public school boards in Ontario are required to gather detailed criminal, police and professional background information on all school staff and even volunteers.
A criminal conviction for assaulting a child would normally disqualify someone from teaching or even volunteering at a public school.
However, provincial laws don’t require private schools to conduct background checks on school staff or mandate who can or cannot work in one.
That’s a problem, according to Noni Classen, the director of education for the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
“It is imperative that private schools are held to the same standard, and also hold themselves to the same standard of protecting children in their care,” she told CBC News.
“Parents have to be able to trust schools and they have a lot of faith in schools in taking care of their children.”
It’s unclear if CISA screened Ross.
CBC News spoke to Ross by phone at CISA. After a brief conversation he provided his school email address, but did not respond to the questions sent to him, or a follow-up email.
The 57-year-old principal and educational consultant used to go by the name Anthony Ross when teaching with the York District School Board, north of Toronto.
Ross no stranger to controversy
According to the August 2020 findings of the Ontario College of Teachers’ disciplinary committee, the college determined that in April 2018, Ross was alone in a classroom with a male student who had a learning disability.
Ross sat close to the boy and began asking him about his body.
“[Ross] stated ‘wow’ then asked the student to let him see,” according to the college’s public findings.
“[Ross] looked to see if there was anyone else in the room then proceeded to grab the student’s right breast with his right hand for approximately 30 seconds. [Ross] stated words to the effect of ‘Wow, you have a great chest.'”
Ross then ran his hand along the student’s arm and asked him about his body hair, according to the college.
Police charged Ross, and in 2019 he pleaded guilty to assault.
He got a 12-month conditional sentence, including four months house arrest and a firearms ban.
In another instance, the college ruled that Ross had told another student he loved him and had inappropriately touched the boy during the 1994/95 school year.
Ross was cleared of criminal charges in that case. However, the college determined he was guilty of professional misconduct and stripped him of his licence. It was later reinstated after a court challenge.
When the college took away Ross’s teaching licence again last year, it noted he did not contest that his conduct constituted sexual abuse under the Ontario College of Teachers Act.
Ross was also found to have committed professional misconduct.
Why private schools have different rules
The Ontario Federation of Independent Schools represents 83 private schools in Ontario. The organization says all member schools must conduct background checks on staff and volunteers annually.
CISA is not listed as a member of the organization.
So, while many private schools conduct criminal background checks on staff, they aren’t required to.
“Private schools operate as businesses or non-profit organizations, independently of the ministry, and therefore set their own policies and procedures related to safety and behaviour,” Api Panchalingam, senior issues co-ordinator for the Ontario education ministry, stated in an email to CBC News.
Principals and teachers in private schools are not required to be certified by the Ontario College of Teachers.
Panchalingam said parents, guardians and students should do their own research before registering for private schools, including getting information about a particular school’s educational program, business practices and other policies.
But Classen, of the Canadian Centre for Child Protection, says leaving the onus on parents and guardians to check on who’s teaching their kids isn’t good enough.
“It’s very concerning to me to understand that, potentially, for individuals going to private school, that there is a lower standard of measure and lower threshold for how, in some places, for what the expectations are for those that can be working with children.”