A young female teacher has been censured for what she described as an "older sister and younger sister" relationship with a female student who was self-harming.

The teacher let the student sleep at her home several times and sleep in her room at a school retreat.

There were no sexual connotations and both the teacher and the student had serious mental health issues at the time.

The case is one of three in which the Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal has censured teachers for misconduct but allowed them to continue teaching, with conditions, because their conduct was associated with their mental health conditions.


The young teacher in the first case was made dean of Year 13 students at an unnamed school at the beginning of last year, only three years after qualifying as a teacher.

She was experiencing "severe stress, depression, anxiety and grief" and was receiving help from a clinical psychologist.

Early in the first term she was approached by a Year 13 girl who asked for time off school to attend treatment for her own mental health issues. The girl was living with caregivers and felt they "did not love her or care for her".

The teacher allowed the girl to take "refuge" in her office when she was distressed, and gradually the girl began to stay on after school to talk to the teacher and messaged her, initially on the school Facebook account.

Later, the teacher gave the girl her personal Facebook account and phone number and they exchanged numerous messages.

At a Year 13 retreat, the girl became upset and, after informing two other adults, the teacher let the girl sleep in a spare bed in the teacher's room.

"Only the two of them slept in the room. However, during the night another student came into the room feeling unwell and wanting to go home," the tribunal said.

The school principal heard about this and "cautioned the respondent about getting too involved with [the girl and] noted that [the girl] was manipulative".


However, at the end of March last year, the girl became suicidal and contacted the teacher via Facebook after school hours.

The teacher and the teacher's mother, a doctor, took the girl to the teacher's mother's home until the girl's caregivers returned from a concert later that night.

In May/June, the girl was again considering suicide and "continued to seek a high level of support" from the teacher.

"They had numerous out-of-school interactions, such as meet-ups and messaging, some of which were personal in nature," the tribunal said.

The teacher transported the girl to various places such as her home and the gym, let the girl "tag along with her and do her errands", and allowed the girl to sleep over at the teacher's home a number of times, with the girl's caregivers' permission.

The teacher bought the girl food, pyjamas, socks, underwear and toiletries, washed the girl's clothes and did her dishes.

She helped the girl to dress her wounds after self-harming.

"[The girl] had a history of self-harm, such as cutting the words 'worthless' and 'fat' into her leg," the tribunal said.

She made the girl tell her caregivers about the self-harming, but did not tell the school principal or deputy principal.

The Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal, pictured at an unrelated hearing in January, has let three teachers continue teaching, subject to conditions, in view of their mental health issues. Photo / File
The Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal, pictured at an unrelated hearing in January, has let three teachers continue teaching, subject to conditions, in view of their mental health issues. Photo / File

"After discovering that [the girl] had been storing up pills, [the teacher] told [the girl]'s caregivers but not the principal or deputy principal."

The teacher told the girl about her own mental health issues, "describing their relationship outside of school as an older sister and younger sister".

"On one occasion, when [the teacher] was drunk and had taken pills, [the girl] picked up on something not being right with [the teacher] and visited [the teacher]'s house," the tribunal said.

"[The girl] then phoned her caregiver, who then advised [the teacher]'s mother. The [teacher]'s mother subsequently came to care for [the teacher]."

By mid-year, the teacher was aware that her behaviour "had crossed the professional boundaries of a teacher and student relationship to the point where she could be jeopardising her job".

"She, however, felt too much of a moral obligation to [the girl] to discontinue helping her, and thought it was best for [the girl] if she provided [the girl] with more 'family' that she could rely on," the tribunal said.

"[The teacher] was also fearful of [the girl]'s reaction if she reduced her level of support or tried to involve the school more."

The relationship continued until the teacher left for a trip to Europe in September last year.

Shortly afterwards, the teacher's psychologist wrote to the school expressing concerns for the teacher and about the teacher's relationship with the girl.

The teacher was placed on leave and later resigned. When the tribunal heard the case in June this year, the teacher was still overseas and stated that she "had opted to take at least a year's break from teaching to allow her time to work on her health".

The tribunal has censured her, stating: "Maintaining appropriate professional boundaries is a fundamental skill, obligation and professional discipline for all teachers."

It ruled that if she returns to teaching within the next two years, she must "continue to attend medical appointments and/or counselling as recommended by her medical advisers" and let her doctor or counsellor share information about her mental health with her employer and the Education Council.

She must "only have contact with students in person at the school or electronically through the school email account which is able to be monitored by [her] mentor".

But the tribunal concluded that the teacher was "a young, committed and passionate teacher" who was "capable of making a significant contribution to the profession once she has recovered".

It found that she received "inadequate professional support" from the school.

"While the school did provide some guidance, mentoring and support for the significant responsibilities which were allocated to [the teacher], that support was ultimately inadequate," it said.

In two other cases, the tribunal:

• Censured Nicola Adams, a teacher at Karamea Area School, for possession of cannabis, but accepted she was mentally unwell and disclosed her offence to the school.

• Censured a teacher for possession of methamphetamine

Both teachers were allowed to continue teaching subject to agreed conditions.


If you are worried about your or someone else's mental health, the best place to get help is your GP or local mental health provider. However, if you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call police immediately on 111.


KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 or 09 5222 999 within Auckland (24/7)
NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 (24/7)
SAMARITANS – 0800 726 666
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (24/7)
WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633, free text 234 or email talk@youthline.co.nz

There are lots of places to get support. For others, click here.