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The board has spoken: Teacher fired after competing on ‘Survivor Québec’ reality show

April 12, 2024
The Canadian Press

Deborah De Braekeleer is shown in a family handout photo. An elementary school teacher competing on the Quebec franchise of "Survivor" has been fired after taking unauthorized time off to participate in the reality competition series.THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Michele De Braekeleer **MANDATORY CREDIT**

Déborah De Braekeleer knew she would have to face her fear of bugs when she volunteered to be marooned on a remote island in the Philippines. But perhaps her greatest challenge awaited her when she returned home to Quebec.

The 39-year-old elementary school teacher is one of 20 cast members on the second season of “Survivor Québec,” a French-language franchise of the popular reality television competition series in which a group of thrill-seekers brave physical challenges and gruelling environmental conditions for the chance to win a $100,000 grand prize.

As of the latest episode Wednesday evening, De Braekeleer was one of 16 remaining contestants.

Yet while viewers watch De Braekeleer vie for the favour of her fellow competitors to avoid elimination by group vote, a different kind of drama is unfolding in St-Hyacinthe, Que., 50 kilometres east of Montreal. On March 26, the governing council of the school district where De Braekeleer taught Grade 3 voted 7-5 to fire her for taking unauthorized time off to participate in the show.


The decision has left some members of the community reeling. An online petition with more than 4,400 signatures is imploring the school board to reverse course.

“She’s a teacher who is extremely appreciated,” said Joël Bélanger, a member of the school board council who voted against her ouster. “She makes a difference, people really identify with her and have made her one of their own, so it’s really our whole community that’s in mourning.”

Reached by social media, De Braekeleer said she can’t talk to reporters while she is still on the Noovo network’s show.

But in an interview Thursday, Bélanger explained what happened. De Braekeleer made a request in November for two months of unpaid leave to compete on the show but received a swift rejection from the school board’s human resources department, which cited a local teacher shortage. Not wanting to give up the opportunity, De Braekeleer made her own arrangements and enlisted replacements to cover her absence, and even made a video for her students to prepare them for her departure in January, Bélanger said.

The human resources department nevertheless warned of repercussions if De Braekeleer went ahead with her unsanctioned time off. And on the department’s recommendation, the council voted to dismiss De Braekeleer while she was in the Philippines filming “Survivor” and unable to defend herself, Bélanger said.

The news of her firing has “shocked” her family in her home country of Belgium, her aunt, Michèle De Braekeleer, said in a transatlantic phone interview Thursday. She said her niece began studying to be a teacher in Europe but soon “fell in love” with Canada and decided to pursue her passion in Quebec.

“This is an aberration,” Michèle De Braekeleer said of the dismissal. “I think there’s a lack of discernment on the part of the school board.”

In an emailed statement, the board — Centre de services scolaire de Saint-Hyacinthe — said confidentiality rules limit its ability to comment on De Braekeleer’s case, saying only that it is bound to apply the conventions of the teachers’ collective agreement. The board confirmed, however, that the agreement allowed De Braekeleer to apply for a different position and resume teaching on Monday.

But the board hasn’t reinstated De Braekeleer to her previous permanent job, Patrick Théroux, president of the local teachers union, explained in an interview. Instead, De Braekeleer now finds herself in the odd position of filling in as her own substitute for the very class at Saint-Thomas-d’Aquin elementary school that she left in January, he said.

“It’s really a funny image,” he remarked. “Here in St-Hyacinthe, there’s a lot of effort put into the image of the school board as a place where there are good values. And then, well, we fire a teacher in the middle of a shortage and hire her back a few days later to replace herself.”

De Braekeleer’s future beyond the end of this school year is uncertain, Bélanger said, vowing to continue efforts to pressure local officials to reconsider her dismissal. He said her supporters are also making appeals to the provincial government.

“The community of Saint-Thomas (school) supports Déborah and they’re going to fight until she gets her rights back,” he said.

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