A principal's tardy response to an allegation that a teacher was molesting students has led him to become the first registered teacher in the country censured for failing to report concerns of serious misconduct.

It has also tarnished the former Havelock North primary principal's previously unblemished reputation.

The Education Council's Disciplinary Tribunal said Paul Anthony Bremer failed in his duty as an educator and "brought discredit to the profession".

Mr Bremer was told of allegations that part-time music teacher Charles Harter was molesting young girls at the school in June 2014. The police became involved on August 5 yet the school's Board of Trustees did not inform the New Zealand Teachers Council until August 9.

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Harter - a music, drama and maths teacher and musician with a classroom career dating back 40 years - was sentenced in October 2014 to three years and four months' jail for molesting nine of his female pupils at Havelock North Primary School.

Mr Bremer's inaction reflected adversely on his fitness to be a teacher, the tribunal stated.

However, it did not go as far as to deregister him.

No suggestion was made that Mr Bremer was in any way associated with Harter's offending, or that he had actual knowledge of it at the time.

Mr Bremer could not be contacted for comment yesterday and the school's current principal, Nick Reed, was also unable to comment.

The Education Council's manager teacher practice, Andrew Greig, said the decision was a test case and a very important one for principals and boards of trustees to be familiar with.

Mr Bremer was not held responsible for the board's failure to file a mandatory report and entering into a confidentiality agreement with Harter.

The board was in breach of its statutory obligations under the Education Act 1989 but when the tribunal investigated, the statute of limitations at the time, which was six months, had run out.

The censure would be on Mr Bremer's record and the council could advise prospective employers of the censure.

A parent whose daughter attended Harter's drama lessons said she still felt the tribunal's decision to censure Mr Bremer was a "pretty severe punishment".

She felt sorry for Mr Bremer, but wondered if he had taken the complaints seriously.

"It's always hard to know what's going on behind the scenes", she said.

"Being an educator, you always need to be careful. Personally I think it's a pretty severe punishment but if my child was the victim, I don't think I'd be sympathetic."

Hawke's Bay Primary Principals Association president Robyn Isaacson said her thoughts were with families involved for what has been a very long and drawn-out process.