A Tauranga teacher has been censured for letting students stay at her home - and befriending them on Facebook.

Jane Hanuere Sowerby, who was a teacher in Mount Maunganui Intermediate School's bilingual unit, said it was "the Māori way" to let students stay at her home several times and set up a Facebook page to communicate with her students.

But the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal has found that her actions breached "professional boundaries" and "lower the reputation and good standing of the teaching profession".

"We did not see any evidence that her interpretation and practice of whanaungatanga as a teacher was endorsed by other Māori educationalists," it said.


The tribunal censured her, but allowed her to continue teaching on condition that she complete a professional development course on maintaining professional boundaries and advises any employer in the next five years about the tribunal decision.

Mt Maunganui Intermediate board of trustees chairman Kelly Sadler said Sowerby stopped teaching at the school in December 2014.

"The school filed a mandatory report to the Education Council and is comfortable with the Education Council's findings and that the process has now concluded," he said.

The tribunal said Sowerby started teaching in 2003 at Royal Oak Primary School in Auckland, where she was co-leader for Te Reo me Tikanga Māori from 2007 to 2012.

She moved to Mt Maunganui Intermediate when the intermediate created a bilingual unit in 2013.

She let eight Year 8 students stay at her home in late 2013.

In January 2014 the school principal Lisa Morresey told her that any sleepover should be for the whole class and be held at the school hall with parental permission and help from a parent or another teacher.

Despite this, Sowerby allowed two male students and a female student to stay at her home in the first half of 2014. The students said they "played technology and stuff and went to the beach", "attended a rugby match" and "went to Papamoa Hills and Kaiate Falls; this was as a reward for completing the Kaikōrero/Pōwhiri".


Meanwhile in February 2014 a deputy principal, Belinda Havill, became aware that Sowerby had set up a Facebook account to communicate with her students and their whānau and that "some of the female students in the respondent's class were posting on her Facebook page inappropriately".

Havill told Sowerby that students under age 13 should not be using Facebook.

Sowerby then removed all except one of her students from her Facebook friends, "however they were still often able to see and comment on each other's posts".

Sowerby posted inspirational messages on the Facebook page but also made comments about her personal feelings. In one post she wrote: "Feeling so misunderstood for a couple of months now ... why do lies and hearsay have more weight (power and title) over the innocent (honest and trusting)?"

Photos posted on the site showed her on her bed with a student, hugging a student and with her head in a student's lap.

Sowerby told the tribunal that the students she invited home were "close family friends and/or family".

The tribunal found that Sowerby did not form "inappropriate relationships" with any students, which would have implied "a sexual element". But it said she "failed to maintain professional boundaries and that the way in which she interacted with students was likely to bring discredit to the profession."

"We are concerned that the overnight stay was a 'reward'. This also took the event out of the realm of tikanga Māori and had the potential to alienate others," it said.

"The Facebook posts we saw had nothing to do with engagement with whānau about school business. They were about the respondent's feelings and views. Even her inspirational messages appeared to be about her own circumstances.

"The Facebook page became a vehicle for her to garner affirmation and find support from her students and their whānau. It appeared to be aimed at meeting her own needs rather than those of the school community she was there to serve."