Teacher struck off over serious misconduct

By Jimmy Ellingham

The teacher will also be censured as he was found guilty of serious misconduct. Photo / File
The teacher will also be censured as he was found guilty of serious misconduct. Photo / File

A male teacher who had an inappropriate relationship with a 13-year-old girl has been struck off the teaching register.

He will also be censured as he was found guilty of serious misconduct.

His female partner was also found guilty but because of her health, other stresses and her partner's influence, she will only be censured and have conditions on her practicing certificate imposed.

Earlier in the day, as the female teacher left the witness box and returned to her bench at the back of the non-descript hearing room on level 12 of a Wellington office building she and her partner, known only as the male teacher, gave each other a soft embrace.

The male teacher knew his career was over, saying he accepted he would be de-registered.

She remained hopeful.

Both were before the Education Council Disciplinary Tribunal, which this week has heard about prolific text and email exchanges between the male teacher and a 13-year-old girl, who was his pupil for much of the time.

In 2013 and 2014, the girl stayed the night at their place, they say because she had nowhere else to go.

The male teacher gave the girl gifts and he and his partner were alleged to have made the girl emotionally dependent on them, kept the girl's parents in the dark over what was happening and impeded the ability of medical professionals to treat her as she went through a tough time.

The tribunal heard the girl was self-harming and running away from home. She also had to leave a boarding school she enjoyed attending because they couldn't support her.

The male teacher spent yesterday giving his side of the story and his partner did the same today, at times tearing up as she recalled a time of stress and severe illness for her.

The girl has since died and her death is being investigated by the Coroner.

Members of her family watched most of the hearing, but had to leave early today to help a relative settle into university.

This afternoon, each side closed its case.

Education Council lawyer Dale La Hood said the case against the male teacher was "overwhelming", despite his denials his relationship with the girl became "increasingly inappropriate".

"His denial, in evidence, of his own emotional attachment to [the girl] is an insult to her memory.

"He was the adult. He was the teacher. It was his responsibility to break it or not create it in the first place."

The female teacher admitted wrongdoing but unsuccessfully argued it didn't amount to misconduct.

Mr La Hood disagreed.

"By the end of it the intensity of her relationship was as bad as or as inappropriate as [the male teacher's]."

Mr La Hood asked for the cancellation of both teachers' practicing certificates.

The teachers' lawyer Janette Andrews said there was a difference between the pair's conduct, as the male taught the girl and the female didn't.

The male teacher found himself "in the most extraordinary set of circumstances", while the female teacher's ability to be an adult, meanwhile, was diminished by her ill-health.

She should be allowed to work as a teacher in the future, Ms Andrews said.

"This situation has been a massive wake-up call for her, probably a turning point in her life. De-registration would be an extreme response for the involvement [she] had."

Ms Andrews noted a sympathetic police report, which cleared them of any criminal wrongdoing.

"[The investigating police officer] had a sense that these were two people that had been pulled into something rather than were the driver of it."

The names of the teachers, the girl, the schools involved and where it happened are suppressed.

The tribunal lifted secrecy orders about the male and female today but then put them back, as the teachers indicated they would appeal.

The tribunal will issue full written findings later.

- NZ Herald

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