A former Greater Victoria School District teacher has been disciplined after a 2020 incident where a woodshop machine ripped a large clump of hair from a student’s head and after others had been injured in his class years earlier.
While the teacher, Christian Willam John Michel, resigned in 2020, B.C.’s teacher regulation authority has now ruled he cannot teach applied design, skills and technology courses in K-12 schools.
An investigation was launched into Michel’s conduct in July 2020 after an incident that February. A Grade 8 student in Michel’s woodworking class had asked to make a small table as part of a project and Michel approved. The project involved using a planer and the student had not operated such a machine before.
Before going to help another student, Michel told the student how to safely use the machine, but didn’t tell them to tie back their hair – which hung down to their waist. The student successfully pushed three pieces of wood through the planer before a fourth got stuck. Michel then pulled out the stuck piece – without turning off the planer – and told the student to push it through again.
The piece of wood again got stuck and the student – who didn’t know how to turn off the machine – went to remove it just as the teacher did while Michel was off helping another kid. Their hair got caught in the planer and a large chunk was ripped from the student’s head, with the injury requiring stitches.
The district suspended Michel the day after the incident and the teacher then resigned in June of that year.
Days before the February incident, another employee of the district saw a student operating a drill press in Michel’s class without their long hair tied. The employee told Michel this was unsafe and that the student’s hair could get caught. Michel handed that student a hair tie, but they didn’t use it and continued to operate the press.
The 2020 incidents were also not isolated events as eight students had been injured in Michel’s classroom between May and December in 2017. A school district investigation stemming from those injuries saw an email shared with Michel that informed him middle school students were to only work on their own projects while supervised. That investigation also found Michel’s shop was congested and not safe, that kids were using equipment that was too advanced and machinery instruction was inconsistent.
In 2018, a Grade 6 student was injured while using a vertical sander on a piece of wood that was too small one month after the school’s principal reminded Michel that – among other safety conditions he had to regularly provide – he had to ensure wood was of adequate size before students used the sander.
Michel admits the facts laid out in the discipline report and that some of his conduct constituted professional misconduct. The commissioner’s decision considered how Michel failed to ensure a safe learning environment for students and he had previously been made aware of the need to maintain a safe classroom.
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