School Art Teacher Accused Of Secretly Selling Kids' Assignments

"This guy thought it was OK to have his own little sweatshop of 12- and 13-year-old children and just benefit off of them financially," said a parent taking legal action.
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A schoolteacher in Canada is facing legal action after being accused of instructing his young students to create artwork in the style of Jean-Michel Basquiat and then selling copies of their creations without their knowledge or consent.

Art instructor Mario Perron of Westwood High School, Junior, in Saint-Lazare, Quebec, was served a legal notice Tuesday, along with his school board, on behalf of two parents following the alleged discovery last week that an online store featured the children’s assignments under his name.

Joel DeBellefeuille, one of the two parents taking legal action, said he’s shocked and sickened by the discovery.

In 2013, visitors look at an untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat before an auction at Christie's in London. On Tuesday in Quebec, two parents took legal action after their children's assignments to create art in the style of Basquiat allegedly turned up for sale on an online site.
In 2013, visitors look at an untitled painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat before an auction at Christie's in London. On Tuesday in Quebec, two parents took legal action after their children's assignments to create art in the style of Basquiat allegedly turned up for sale on an online site.
Frank Augstein/Associated Press

“I’m still very much baffled and in disbelief that this guy thought it was OK to have his own little sweatshop of 12- and 13-year-old children and just benefit off of them financially by stealing their homework,” DeBellefeuille told HuffPost on Wednesday.

Perron did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment Wednesday.

Darren Becker, a spokesperson for the Lester B. Pearson School Board in the Montreal area, confirmed receiving the legal notice in a statement to HuffPost and said that the board is “taking these allegations very seriously.”

“An investigation is underway so the school board cannot comment on this matter any further,” the statement said.

The artwork was the alleged result of Perron instructing his students to make an original “creepy portrait” of themselves or a classmate in the late Basquiat’s style, according to a copy of the Jan. 19 homework instructions shared with HuffPost.

“I do think that it is bothering him in the sense that trust was broken between student and teacher.”

- Joel DeBellefeuille

The instructions explicitly warned not to directly copy one of Basquiat’s images “because it is considered plagiarism.” Those five words were underlined for apparent emphasis.

DeBellefeuille said his son, Jax, was absent due to illness but that his classmate created a portrait of him for the assignment. This portrait was then discovered online on Thursday when Perron’s students did a Google search on Perron’s professional achievements and found his online store, according to a copy of the legal notice against Perron and the school board.

“I do think that it is bothering him in the sense that trust was broken between student and teacher,” DeBellefeuille said of his son.

Perron’s alleged page on FineartAmerica.com, which was no longer operating on Wednesday, listed thousands of items featuring the artwork of 96 students, said DeBellefeuille. These items, including mugs, tote bags, towels and jigsaw puzzles, had price tags of up to $120, according to the legal notice.

DeBellefeuille said the items initially had Perron’s full name listed as the artist under each item but that over the weekend, shortly after the allegations against Perron were made public by local news outlets, the name changed to just Perron’s initials.

“So he took his time to remove his name, but he left all the artwork and merchandise still up there, which is beyond me that he thought that that was OK. This shows clear intent on his side to continue doing what he did,” he said.

The legal notice demands $350,000 to cover moral and punitive damages as well as copyright infringement penalties under Canadian law. It also demands a formal apology, the art’s removal from the teacher’s website, and the temporary or permanent suspension of the teacher.

The school board and Perron were given until Monday to respond.

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