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The Dalhousie University dentistry building is seen in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 12, 2015

Andrew Vaughan/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Twelve of 13 male students in dentistry at Dalhousie University who made misogynistic comments about female classmates on Facebook will be able to return to clinical practice, the university said on Monday, the first step toward allowing them to graduate.

The announcement came on the day 29 students from the graduating class of 46 released an open letter detailing how the controversy over the comments has affected them.

The 13 students completed their classroom hours in February – the rest of their program takes place at the school's dental clinics. The academic standards class committee (ASCC) that has been assessing whether they can meet the professionalism requirements of their program also examined whether the students can go back to working with the public.

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"The ASCC has carefully considered whether a conditional return to clinic for the 12 men taking part in [a restorative justice (RJ) program] would create any risk to students, staff and the public," the statement said. "Safety remains our priority … no member of the public will receive treatment from any of the men if they choose not to," the statement continued.

The Facebook group called the Class of DDS 2015 Gentlemen and the comments made in it caused a national outcry when they became public last year. Many patients of the clinics said they did not want to be treated by dental students who had joked about using chloroform on women. The university's statement on Monday summarizes the many steps it has taken to address the case and the climate in the dentistry faculty and on campus. "[We] have made meaningful progress in addressing this disturbing behaviour," the university states. The reaction of patients at the clinics to the students' return will give some indication of how successful the university is likely to be in persuading the public it is taking the right steps.

The decision does not give the students a clear path to graduation. Some of the men "will not graduate in May," the statement says, but does not indicate why. Contributions "to the RJ process" will be considered in the final decision.

One of the 13 members of the Facebook group is not participating in restorative justice and is pursuing his case through a lawyer. Ryan Millet, 29, has said he was the whistleblower who told a female classmate about the posts, including a poll asking which woman in the class the men would like to have "hate" sex with.

In January, he appeared before the ASCC for several hours, but Monday's statement said the committee is still considering his case.

Dentistry regulatory bodies in several provinces have said this year's graduates of the university's dental school will face added scrutiny when they apply for licenses to practise and must show they are of "good character."

The return to clinical practice is conditional, and should the men fail to demonstrate "high standards of professionalism" they will be removed from clinic, the statement said.

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Not all of the female students who were affected by the posts participated in the restorative justice process. Four women released a separate statement in January rejecting that option and asking Dalhousie to launch a formal investigation, which the university declined to do.

Those women were also involved in the decision, the university said.

"Each woman supported the conditional return to clinic."

In the letter made public on Monday, the men who wrote the posts said they have apologized to their classmates and those apologies have been accepted.

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