Bevan Hurley

Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

'Appalled' as kids' mouths taped shut

Madison Finch, 7, had her mouth taped shut by a teacher. Photo / Janna Dixon
Madison Finch, 7, had her mouth taped shut by a teacher. Photo / Janna Dixon

UPDATE (July 11, 2012): The Complaints Assessment Committee of the Teachers Council has investigated the alleged mouths-taped incident and are satisfied that this did not take place. The allegations are inaccurate. The Committee said further that they are of the view that Pat Doube is an exceptional teacher.

Two 7-year-olds had their mouths taped shut for talking in class, leaving them too afraid to return to school.

Teacher Pat Doube allegedly told the parents of year three classmates Madison Finch and Nikale Wilson that she had punished them for being "over-exuberant" in class, they say.

Madison's mother, Lisa Karl, said she was "appalled" at the way her daughter was treated and had complained to the Children's Commissioner and Education Ministry.

Sabrina Wilson said Doube laughed it off when it was raised at a parent-teacher interview. "I was dumbstruck," she said. "She told me, 'Where's the line? What's okay and what's not okay'?"

Wilson said Nikale was punished for trying to answer all the questions.

Another child in the same class at Mercury Bay Area School in Whitianga was made to sit in the middle of a circle while other kids said why they didn't like them.

The latest allegations come after more than a dozen serious complaints about the way the school was being run last year. The school voluntarily accepted the appointment of a limited statutory manager, who dismissed almost all of the 18 complaints against the management of the school.

But Lisa Karl said the taping of her daughter's mouth went beyond the pale. "I know they can talk a lot but they are little kids and if you were to do something like that at home it would be classed as abuse."

Madison was left with red marks around her mouth and has been reluctant to go back to school.

The little girl said it was painful when the tape was ripped off her mouth. "It made me feel really sad," she said.

Neither of the children told their parents about what had happened at first, but they were informed by parents of other classmates.

Karl said she received a telephone apology from the teacher and met senior staff at the school, but believed the school's action did not go far enough.

In a letter to Children's Commissioner Russell Wills, Karl wrote that the August 12 incident was a "form of punishment dished out in front of the entire class".

"This is not suitable for children in any shape or form. I am appalled that she has been exposed to this bullying."

School trustees chairwoman Erin Kropidlowski said the board only became aware of the incident after receiving a complaint on Thursday.

The matter was being investigated fully, she said. "As it's an employment issue, I can't comment any further."

Kropidlowski said she could not say why the board had been notified of the incident only this week.

Principal John Wright was said to be on a school excursion and did not return requests for an interview.

Former Green MP Sue Bradford, who sponsored the anti-smacking legislation, said she was shocked that children might be treated like this.

"That would be assault if a parent did that to a child and it shouldn't be any different in schools," she said.

Lisa Karl said her partner Blair Finch was extremely angry about the incident and was returning this week from Perth, where he worked in the mines.

Karl, a cleaner, has another child at the school. She felt able to speak out about the incident only because she was leaving for Australia later this year.

The Office of the Children's Commissioner and the Education Ministry confirmed they would look into the complaint.

"We would expect any school to take any such allegation very seriously and take appropriate action," said Chris Day, the ministry's acting regional manager.

- Herald on Sunday

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