Teacher conduct cases hit high
By LANE NICHOLS – The Dominion Post | Thursday, 08 January 2009
Nearly 1300 teachers have faced allegations of serious misconduct, violence, viewing pornography, sexual misconduct, dishonesty, alcohol and drug use, or incompetency since 2002.
Last year was the worst on record, with 233 formal complaints lodged against teachers with the Teachers Council nearly a third for alcohol and drugs.
But unions say teachers are easy targets for “spurious and vexatious” complaints by aggrieved parents, who are free to make formal allegations often groundless to employers and police.
“There are some parents who won’t be happy unless they see somebody getting punished,” Educational Institute president Frances Nelson said.
“And it doesn’t matter how guilty that teacher is, they still want a pound of flesh.”
There are 90,000 registered teachers, but since 2005, just 40 have been referred to the council’s disciplinary tribunal for formal proceedings over the most serious misconduct allegations.
Nearly all those cases resulted in censure and 26 teachers were struck off for misbehaviour mostly for sexual misconduct or viewing pornography.
The cases included:
Former Wairarapa College drama teacher Luke McIndoe eloped with a 16-year-old pupil after they developed a sexual relationship.
A teacher in her 30s had sex with a secondary school pupil, later saying a breakup with her fiance left her “emotionally vulnerable”.
Retired Havelock North principal Ian James Wilson was convicted on child pornography charges after 9000 illegal images were found on his home computer.
Figures made available under the Official Information Act show misconduct, including inappropriate communications with pupils or parents, was the most common allegation against teachers. Then came incompetency, violence, alcohol and drugs, dishonesty, sexual misconduct and pornography.
Since 2004, misconduct complaints have been investigated by the council’s complaints assessment committee.
It can dismiss complaints if groundless or vexatious, recommend a teacher’s suspension for reasons of safety, impose conditions or refer the most serious cases to the disciplinary tribunal for possible deregistration.
Post Primary Teachers Association president-elect Kate Gainsford said teaching was a public job and there had always been spurious complaints.
“Sometimes they’re just not substantiated enough to take further. There is a concern if there is a lack of natural justice, if people are criticised or attacked unfairly. But that’s why the process is so important.”
Teachers supported having an independent body to assess complaints and discipline wayward colleagues, provided the process was fair and robust.