Edmonton teacher charged with sexual assault involving student

An Edmonton junior high teacher has been charged with a sexual assault involving one of her students.

Alyssa Tungul, 29, faces one count each of sex assault, sexual counsel of a child under the age of 16 years and having sexual contact with a child.

Edmonton police and the Edmonton Catholic school board made a deliberate decision not to release the information when Tungul was charged in May. 

According to court documents, the alleged offence occurred between June 1, 2016, and Nov. 30, 2016, and involved one male student. 

At the time, Tungul was teaching at H.E. Beriault Catholic Junior High in west Edmonton. 

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Edmonton police began investigating on Nov. 26, 2018.

By then, Tungul had moved to the new Bishop David Motiuk Elementary/Junior High School, also in west Edmonton, where she taught Grade 8 and music.

Edmonton Catholic Schools was notified about the investigation in December 2018. 

"The teacher was removed from the classroom and school," spokesperson Lori Nagy said in an email. "We began an internal investigation immediately and are working closely with the EPS."

Nagy confirmed Tungul was suspended with pay on Dec. 11, 2018, and will remain on suspension until the conclusion of the criminal case. 

'A news release was contemplated'

CBC only learned about the charges after receiving a tip.

"A news release was contemplated when charges were laid against the accused," police spokesperson Cheryl Sheppard wrote in an email. "However, the information gleaned from the investigation at the time did not lead investigators to believe there were any additional victims.

"As a result, the EPS felt there was no investigative purpose to necessitate a duty to warn."

Similarly, Nagy indicated the Catholic board decided to follow the lead of police and not issue a statement. 

The decision does not sit well with clinical director of a charity dedicated to helping child survivors of sexual abuse. 

"I absolutely have concerns," said Dr. Wanda Polzin, clinical director at Little Warriors. "I think it's imperative for people to be aware of potential offenders."

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Polzin, a psychologist, wondered how investigators could be confident there are no other alleged victims. 

"My belief and understanding is that people who are put in positions of power — who are being able to have easy access to children within the community — often do have offending behaviours not just with one child, but others as well," she said.

Polzin believes parents of Tungul's students are entitled to know about the criminal charges. 

"I don't know that it should be held back from them," Polzin said. "I think it opens up a conversation for parents to be able to prevent further harm potentially, but also to be able to support children if there are causes for other concerns."

The executive director of the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton noted the case raises the issue of potential gender bias when it comes to sexual violence. 

"We know that sexual violence can happen to anyone," Mary Jane James said. "Even though it is disproportionately men who use abusive behaviours, women do, too.  

"We also know that men and boys are less likely to disclose experiences of sexual assault because of the shame and blame around the issue. 

Both the police and the school board insist gender played no role in their decision. 

"The safety of students is always our first priority and the gender of the teacher was never a factor in deciding whether to put out information to our parent community," Nagy wrote.

Tungul, who is not in custody, made her first court appearance last month and is scheduled to report to the court again on July 24.