A first-year female teacher at a small rural school has been deregistered after starting a relationship with a 16-year-old boy in her art class.
The teacher was 24 at the time and admitted forming a close relationship with the boy, exchanging multiple texts "of an intimate, affectionate and personal nature" and kissing several times. The relationship did not become sexual.
The teacher also formed a close friendship with three female art students, including the boy's younger sister, and told two of them about her relationship with the boy. She asked them not to tell anyone about the relationship.
The Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal has found that the teacher's relationships with all four students were inappropriate and has cancelled her teacher registration.
All names and the school's location have been suppressed because it is in "a small country community" where it would be easy to identify the students involved.
The teacher was employed as the school's sole art teacher at the start of 2015 in her first year of teaching. She had suffered depression in the past, had broken up with a partner a year earlier, and did not get on well with her flatmates, who included another teacher at the school.
She told the tribunal that she had worked with high school students at a takeaway outlet and played sport with them before she started teaching at the school, and she felt she could relate to the students better than other teachers could.
The boy was in her Year 12 art class. He was also "struggling with emotional and mental health difficulties following a relationship breakup".
"On one occasion, he was in the art room talking with other students and began talking about his feelings to the respondent [teacher], who was present," the tribunal said.
"The respondent messaged Student A that night via Facebook to check that he was okay.
"Over time, as their Facebook and other communications continued, she started talking to Student A about techniques to get through his depression. She also gave Student A her phone number in case he got down too."
The boy started talking to the teacher at intervals, lunchtimes and after school.
At the start of term three, the boy's mother approached the school with concerns about her son's mental health. The boy did not want to talk to the guidance counsellor, but the mother told the deputy principal that she understood her son had a good relationship with the art teacher and suggested that she might be able to help.
The deputy principal asked the teacher to support the boy "by ensuring she had positive conversations with him, for example by getting him to try to think of one positive thing each day".
The teacher and the deputy principal met most weeks to discuss how the boy was doing "and more generally for mentoring and advice as a first-year teacher".
However, the teacher's Facebook relationship with the boy was against the school's policy and both she and the boy used false names for each other on their phones to conceal their relationship.
At one stage the boy threatened to kill himself and told the teacher he would go through with it if she told anyone else about it. The teacher had two friends who had committed suicide that year and agreed not to tell anyone.
The pair "had conversations about their shared interests and hobbies".
"A physical relationship developed during term two when, during a meeting, they kissed," the tribunal said.
"They kissed a few more times on separate occasions for the remainder of the relationship, all on school grounds."
The relationship ended in August 2015 when the school's specialist cyber safety teacher discovered that the teacher was a Facebook friend of numerous students, including the boy. The boy stopped seeing the teacher in school breaks and started seeing an external counsellor.
Meanwhile, the teacher had also formed a close friendship with the three female art students, going with them into a nearby forest after school hours three times so that one of them could take photos for her photography portfolio.
The teacher told the girls on these trips about her own personal problems and they created a private Facebook group. The teacher told two of the girls about her relationship with the boy.
"She told them that she was feeling lonely, that she was developing serious feelings for Student A, and that he had told the respondent that he loved her," the tribunal said.
The two girls told the tribunal that they felt uncomfortable about having to keep the relationship a secret and thought the teacher might penalise them in exams if they told anyone about it.
"Their focus was being taken away from their work. They both felt this impacted negatively on their achievement," the tribunal said.
The two girls told the school early in 2016 about the teacher's relationships with both them and the boy.
The teacher admitted what she had done and resigned in May 2016. When the tribunal heard the case in January this year, the former teacher was working as a food packer and had "booked a flight to Europe where she hoped to immerse herself in art and culture".
"She had no plans to return to teaching in the foreseeable future."
The tribunal found that her relationship with the boy constituted "serious misconduct".
"The respondent was fully informed about Student A's fragility and was reckless as to the possible impact of her conduct on him," it said.
It also found that the teacher "lowered the reputation and good standing of the teaching profession" by discussing her personal problems with the three girls, including making negative comments about other teachers at the school.