Censured head of religious studies teacher oversteps pastoral care

A teacher has been censured after sending scores of inappropriate emails to a pupil. Photo / Getty
A teacher has been censured after sending scores of inappropriate emails to a pupil. Photo / Getty

A teacher who was the head of religious studies at a private Wellington college has been censured after his student pastoral care extended to wagging class and giving gifts.

In a decision just released by the Teacher's Disciplinary Tribunal Nigel Schofield-Matthews has been censured after over-stepping the mark with a 17-year-old student last year.

The disgraced teacher, who was formerly the head of Marsden Collegiate School's head of religious education up until last June, was found guilty of serious misconduct after he sent mountains of inappropriate emails to the student, which breached professional boundaries.

In the emails he referred to a bar of chocolate gifted to the teenager, that she should call him by his first name and one where he encouraged her to miss class so the pair could go to a book fair together with a promise he could drop her home afterwards.

The girl, whose identity must remain secret, told the school the emails made her feel "uncomfortable" and "confused".

She initially thought the online correspondence was an example of the strong pastoral care the school promised, however, she was concerned the teacher was attempting to get her to miss class and find out where she lived.

Another senior student at the school saw the emails and showed them to a teacher. The school immediately conducted an internal investigation with Schofield-Matthews acknowledging he was starting to see the girl as a friend.

He told the school he was dealing with a raft of personal difficulties which had clouded his judgement including the recent death of his father, his wife's cancer diagnosis, depression and unexpectedly losing a teaching role at the school.

As well, he suggested his own compassionate personality and teaching style may have blurred boundaries.

The school found his communication with the student amounted to misconduct.

The teacher resigned, citing the need to take time out to deal with on-going personal issues and regain full health.

The school accepted that there was no sexual grooming or harmful intentions, but the complaints committee questioned what that was based on.

"We do find his actions capable of being construed as the early stage of such grooming, but we are prepared to accept there was no intention here."

The tribunal was told he had since undergone counselling.

Scholfield-Matthews was censured and required to fulfil stiff criteria to remain in the classroom including undertaking further counselling and professional development in maintaining appropriate relationships with students, two years of professional mentoring, and the need to disclose the tribunal's decision to future schools for the next two years.

Emails from the teacher to the pupil

April 19: "You never know, our paths could cross...maybe a coffee..."
May 3:"And where were you p1?? Eh?Eh?..."
May 3: "Hi, I see you new shoes have arrived - tres cool."
May 4: "Just a quick one, as it were, but what's your favourite chocolate bar? Do you have more than one? Is it even chocolate... ? I know it seems a really odd request, but, can you let me know asap?"
May 5: "I cannot possibly countenance you skipping a lesson p6 (did you detect the reading-between-the-lines there?) but were you to appear at my office at the end of p5 and stay and chat and never make it to p6, weeeeeeell, stuff happens - you know??"

- NZ Herald

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