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B.C. teacher suspended for traumatic 'sacred cow' assignment

A B.C. high school teacher has been suspended and forced to take remedial classes after a controversial assignment forced some students to tears, while one later self-harmed at home.
B.C.'s Commissioner for Teacher Regulation found a Surrey teacher shared a story of sexual abuse making students feel like they had a 'gun to [their] head' to do the same.

A B.C. teacher has been suspended for five days and ordered to take remedial classed after a “sacred cow” assignment left some students in tears and another to go home and cause “self-harm.”

The incident, involving high school teacher Kuljit Singh Uppal, dates back to February 2022. At the time, Uppal was teaching a social justice class to grade 11 and 12 students in the Surrey School District, when one day, he introduced a “sacred cow” assignment.

Uppal asked the students to prepare a presentation around something that was “untouchable” or “sacred.” A brainstorming session brought up a number of topics, such as sexual orientation, mental health, patriarchy, abortion, abuse and child marriage, according to a consent resolution agreement signed Nov. 22 by Uppal and the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation.

Uppal then offered his own “sacred cow” to the class — he told students he had been sexually abused by a family member as a child. 

The consent agreement says the teacher did not provide any “trigger warning” before sharing his story, and did not set any ground rules around confidentiality. Students, the agreement says, felt they had no option but to share. 

Three days later, the students started presenting on a range of topics, from immigration issues and family dynamics to substance abuse, self-harm and body image. 

“The students who presented were often crying, and many students listening to the presentations were often emotional, with their heads down,” said the agreement. 

When two students left the class, Uppal did not check on them. 

The next day the presentations continued, and included “at least five or six students” who gave presentations suggesting they had suffered physical or sexual abuse. 

“Despite knowing his obligation to do so, Uppal did not report these disclosures to school administration and/or to the students’ parents,” wrote Commissioner Ana R. Mohammed. 

Uppal was found not to have provided support after the class, when many students reported panic attacks, feeling “vulnerable,” “stripped naked” and “traumatized.” Some said they didn’t want to participate but felt like they had a “gun to [their] head.” One student went home after the assignment and “self-harmed.”

On June 20, 2022, the district filed a report to the B.C. Commissioner for Teacher Regulation. 

The commissioner ultimately found Uppal overshared his personal life and facilitated the students’ disclosure of “deeply personal and traumatic issues to the entire class.” He was found not to have provided appropriate safeguards to protect the emotional and physical safety of his students and was “dishonest” during the following investigation, according to the agreement. 

“Uppal’s conduct in fact resulted in emotional trauma and was triggering to students,” wrote Mohammed. 

During the investigation, Uppal said he was “blindsided” by the student disclosures of abuse. But the commissioner found past examples of reportable presentations in 2020, says the agreement.

In the consent agreement released Tuesday, Mohammed disclosed that Uppal had been ordered to take courses in professional boundaries and trauma informed practice, and was banned from teaching the social justice course until they were complete. 

The teacher was also ordered to serve a delayed five-day teaching suspension starting Dec. 11, 2023.