An alumna of The King’s School in Winnipeg says Christian educators failed to protect students from a male teacher after she disclosed that he had inappropriately touched teenagers more than three years ago.
The private academy, which runs a pre-school and provides K-12 instruction in partnership with Gateway Church, recently hired a third-party investigator to probe concerns about a longtime employee’s behaviour.
A spokesperson for the partially funded independent school’s board told the Free Press allegations of "inappropriate conduct" were made about a teacher in early 2022 and an investigation is ongoing.
"We take the safety of our students seriously and have policies in place that guide our response," wrote board chairman Andrew Frank, in an email Tuesday.
Citing the active status of the case, Frank provided few details. He indicated the accused has been "temporarily removed from the school" and an independent investigator — who was retained by the board in February — is looking into any "any allegations that come forward present or past."
Former student Danielle McNab has mixed feelings about the investigation she said should have happened years ago.
"(The school leaders) pride themselves on the safety and the comfort of their students, but I experienced the complete opposite of that when I was there… I didn’t realize how bad it really was until I left," said McNab, 18.
“We take the safety of our students seriously and have policies in place that guide our response." — The King’s School board chairman Andrew Frank
The recent high school graduate said she transferred to public school in Grade 11 due to two factors: the teacher’s non-consensual touching and homophobia in the community.
She recalled one incident in the fall of 2018 that has stuck with her.
McNab said she was sitting in an English class when a teacher came up from behind, started massaging her shoulders and whispered into her ear that she seemed tense.
The educator asked the then-15-year-old if she needed a massage and when she declined, he indicated that probably would not be allowed anyway, she recalled.
The teacher has a reputation in the school community for being known to touch students, whether it be hugging or putting his hands on their shoulders when he prays for them, and he has long indicated that is how he "shows God’s love," multiple sources said.
For that reason, McNab said the incident was not unexpected — but it made her feel extremely uncomfortable so she reported her feelings to another adult in the school who suggested the behaviour was allowed, but would pass along concerns to principal Suzan Zielke.
Within roughly a week, the teacher announced to a room full of students that someone had disclosed concerns and the principal had spoken with him, McNab said, adding she later told him she was the complainant in the hopes he would stop the touching.
"He didn’t stop. He just got more sneaky about it," she said.
Zielke did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
“He didn’t stop. He just got more sneaky about it." — Former The King’s School student Danielle McNab
Around the time she was leaving The King’s School in early 2020, McNab said she warned a younger friend to keep an eye out for the inappropriate conduct. Roughly one year later, the friend called her to say a group of students approached school staff with concerns that echoed hers from 2018, she said.
"It’s manipulative, it’s disgusting, really. They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves and held accountable for what’s been allowed to happen," said Krista Gerbrandt, a former member of Gateway Church and mother who sent her children to the affiliated religious private school until 2021-22.
Gerbrandt said her family felt the church community no longer reflected their belief systems and she had a negative experience working as a bible study and worship leader at Gateway.
She said she is infuriated by the school’s lack of transparency about the investigation.
The independent school is funded by both the evangelical congregation and the Manitoba government.
In an email to high school families in late April, school administrators announced the teacher would be "on leave for an undetermined period of time."
One student who studied under the male teacher as recently as 2021 — and who spoke to the Free Press on the condition of anonymity — said she felt guilty whenever he touched her shoulders and she felt uncomfortable.
"He’s supposed to be a safe person. He’s there for me. He’s just wanting to help," she said, recalling her thought process.
“It’s manipulative, it’s disgusting, really. They should be absolutely ashamed of themselves and held accountable for what’s been allowed to happen." — Krista Gerbrandt
The teenager noted she has only recently realized how inappropriate the behaviour was, as well as the intensely personal questions he asked students.
"I’ve never had a teacher (other than him) put their hands on me," she added.
After learning current students had recently come forward, McNab filed a police report in early May.
The Winnipeg Police Service confirmed the sex crimes unit looked into the situation, but said no charges have been laid.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.