A now-convicted child sex offender fooled school board officials into approving the transfer of one of his victims from one school to another so the boy could live with him.
According to the boy's father, Rene Mark Burke walked into the Okanagan-Skaha School District office in Penticton in August 2011 to seek permission to transfer the student as if he was the boy's legal guardian. School district officials approved the transfer without checking its own files and without the father even knowing.
"The people you think to trust with your kids," he said. "What would have happened if the guy killed my (child)?"
Burke was in Penticton Provincial Court today to be sentenced for two sex convictions involving children and two bail breach convictions. Burke, a large bald man in his 50s, sat quietly, leaning against his metal crutches. Crown lawyer John Swanson and defence lawyer James Pennington agreed more time was needed for sentencing. A new date had not been set while court was in session. Burke was convicted of fear of sexual offence against person under 14, touching a young person and two breaches of recognizance. He also may be wanted on outstanding charges in Ontario.
The father of the student was upset and waited at court for most of the morning to see justice. His name and the name of his child cannot be published in order to protect the youth.
When he found out about the school transfer, the man thought his child was pulling a stunt. He said in a statement of claim against the school district that when he initially asked about the transfer, he was told that Burke signed it. This despite the fact that the father was on school records as the legal guardian and includes his address and phone number, he says. When he asked to see the file, he was "denied as they had to protect Rene Mark Burke's privacy," he says.
"I asked how can you transfer a student without the consent of the parent," he says in his claim. "I was told that they have many request for transfers and they do not have time to verify all requests."
He had already spoken to police. He told them Burke approached and charmed his child with alcohol and gifts, he says. When police said a crime hadn't been committed, he tried again to get the transfer document as evidence. He says he showed the school district his custodial court papers to prove his identity and then still had to file a formal freedom of information request and get a criminal record check.
In the meantime, he has now learned, Burke was sexually abusing his son.
The father supplied Infotel News with copies of the school transfer documents he got from the freedom of information request. Burke filled out the first one in August 2011 saying the student would be moving to Burke's home. He said he was the student's legal guardian and Burke would be responsible for the student's attendance. Burke signed the document with his own name, not even pretending to be someone else. The word "approved" was stamped on the transfer request.
District superintendent Wendy Hyer refused to comment. She said it is a confidential matter which is also before the courts.
The father is stunned by how easy Burke got approval. He is also angry the board ignored him at first and are now trying to duck this problem.
"They just fast-tracked it (the transfer). When I go in front of them and say there is a problem they didn't do anything."
The father said Burke was only arrested when he brought copies of the school transfer to the police.
The father said he wants a letter of apology from the school board. He also filed with small claims court. He said it is the only way to punish the school district.
"My goal is to make it very painful," he said, so this doesn't happen again. "They totally dismissed me. They dismissed my (child)."
UPDATE: School District 67 has not filed a statement of defence or a counter-claim against the father.
To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Quesnel at email@example.com or call 250-488-3065.