Hereworth's authority urges teacher Emma Fox's sacking justified

By Morgan Tait

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A former teacher at a prestigious Hawke's Bay private school intends to appeal an Employment Relations Authority decision that determined her claim of unfair dismissal "fails in its entirety".

Emma Fox was employed as a junior school teacher at Hereworth School, Havelock North, from 2008 and claimed she was unfairly dismissed in 2010 after a chain of events triggered by a disagreement over the grades she gave her students.

Hereworth argued this was not the case, and that Mrs Fox refused the school's attempts to address the issue through channels it repeatedly put in place, and that view was upheld by the authority in a 37-page decision released on February 8.

Details of the four-year saga were heard over a number of days in September at Hastings District Court by authority member James Crichton.

Mrs Fox and her husband Dr Stephen Fox appeared via video link from Western Australia where they now live. Dr Fox said his wife intended to appeal the decision.

"For the record, we knew we would have to appeal the decision," he said.

Dr Fox said there were concerns with how the process was handled at all levels, but would not comment further.

Mrs Fox claimed that in 2009 she was asked by head of the junior school, Shirley Cameron, to alter students' grades on their 2008 reports "so it didn't look as if the children had declined in progress since leaving [Mrs Fox's] classroom".

Ms Cameron disputed that, saying she was trying to make sure all teachers were following a standardised marking practice.

The allegation spiralled to a series of alleged events, including confrontations with staff, stolen paperwork, internet slander and formal complaints that involved the New Zealand Teachers Council, police, the Privacy Commission and Ombudsman, and the British Columbia Council of Teachers.

Among Mrs Fox's grievances was that the school had appointed the deputy chairman of the school's board, Doug Abraham, to investigate the dispute.

Mrs Fox also claimed he threatened her by stating in an email: "If you elect to discuss these matters externally, you do so at your own peril".

The authority agreed it was wrong-headed to portray Mr Abraham as impartial, but found he didn't threaten her.

By November 2009, the matter took "a darker turn" when the school's lawyer wrote to Mrs Fox to seek her assurance she had nothing to do with emails being circulated by disgruntled parents - an involvement she denied.

"What should have been no more and no less than at worst a professional disagreement, developed a life of its own such that allegations of dishonesty and various forms of impropriety became commonplace as the dispute escalated," the decision said.

"The authority's clear view is that Mrs Fox was absolutely mistaken in the view that she formed about the conversation she had with Ms Cameron ... because the authority is not persuaded there would have been anything to gain either for Ms Cameron personally or for Hereworth School in general in the alteration which Mrs Fox says she was asked to attend to."

Mr Crichton determined Mrs Fox's claim "fails in its entirety".

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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