Porno gang’ warning at school

Porno gang’ warning at school

By CATHERINE WOULFE – Sunday Star Times

Six teachers at an Auckland school have been caught with inappropriate emails on their school computers.

Outraged insiders have dubbed the group a “porno gang”, and say authorities are covering up a scandal.

The school is Sir Edmund Hillary Collegiate (SEHC) in Otara, Manukau, a decile-one state school with a roll of 548, and about 50 staff. It is not known which teachers were involved and school commissioner Gail Thomson refused to give details about the emails, saying only that they contained images and text “inappropriate for a school”.

Five teachers were found out last year during a routine sweep of the school’s computer system. The sixth was picked up this year during an audit by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Thomson said five of the teachers were still working at the school, but were on final written warnings and would be fired if they reoffended. A computer sweep early this year revealed one of the teachers caught in the first check had reoffended; that person resigned and left the school that day, and Thomson said “appropriate authorities” were informed.

Without access to school records, she could not say yesterday whether a complaint was made to the watchdog body, the Teachers Council. The council’s 2009 decisions are not yet public but decisions between 2006 and 2008 show it has little sympathy for teachers looking at pornography on school or even home computers. It has stripped six teachers of their registrations in that time, forced one to work under strict conditions and given another a formal warning. The council is powerless to investigate a teacher, or ban them from the classroom, unless a complaint is made by an employer or the teacher reports a conviction.

The SEHC incidents emerged last week when the Sunday Star-Times received an anonymous letter from authors who said they could not reveal themselves for fear of dismissal. It said: “The Ministry of Education [and] Education Review Office [ERO]… are involved in a `cover-up’ which defies belief.

“There is a porno gang of five guys at SEHC who have collected, composed and distributed serious porn on their school computers. Some pupils have seen some of it and most staff are aware of it. We wrote to the commissioner three times urging appropriate action, to no avail. We then wrote to the Ministry and ERO. Still no action. Why?”

Thomson said the “cowardly” letter-writers were trying to undermine positive work at the collegiate. There was a small volume of problematic emails, and most were sent to teachers from outside the school. Some emails had been “recirculated”, but she had no evidence any pupils had seen them.

The emails she had seen were “not at the highest level of concern, but inappropriate for a school”.

The former board of trustees dealt with the first five teachers caught, after seeking advice from the secondary teachers’ union and the School Trustees Association. In January the education minister sacked that board and replaced them with Thomson, following an ERO report raising serious concerns about student safety.

Thomson handled the teacher who reoffended, and the sixth teacher who was caught during the audit this year. She said the audit revealed a “historical matter”, but that teacher’s email use had been clean for the past two years.

All staff and pupils were subject to a computer use agreement, Thomson said.

The Ministry of Education refused to comment last week. Principal Karen Douglas, and other staff at the school, were not permitted to speak to media.