19 Feb 2016

Teacher deregistered over relationship with girl

7:46 pm on 19 February 2016

One of the two teachers who was involved with a 13-year-old girl, who has since died, will be deregistered.

Court

Court Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski

The Education Council's disciplinary tribunal chairman Kenneth Johnston said the man had not done everything in his power to ensure the safety of his student, a 13-year-old girl with whom he formed an intense relationship.

Mr Johnston said the tribunal would also censure the man's partner and place conditions on her practising certificate.

He said it intended to remove name suppression for the pair and the schools they work at, but they would have the opportunity to appeal that decision.

The pair had allowed the girl to stay at their home several times in 2013 and 2014 because of fears for her safety. The man also sent emails and texts to the girl in which he said he wanted to climb in her window and that he missed her.

The lawyer for the Education Council's disciplinary tribunal, Dale La Hood, said the teacher's communications to the girl had encouraged an intense attachment that later impeded psychiatrists' ability to treat her.

He said the case was particularly unusual because there was an intense relationship that did not include a physical element, two teachers were involved and there was a tragic end for the child.

During cross examination, both teachers accepted they had crossed professional boundaries by allowing the girl to stay at their house and by failing to inform their principals, health professionals or the girl's parents.

They said they had the girl's best interests at heart and were worried that she would run away if they told anyone else about the situation.

The male teacher, 42, was the girl's teacher when she was in Year 8 in 2013. They began emailing each other about the girl's work and in October that year the girl stayed the night at the house after turning up unexpectedly during a storm. They said the girl had run away and threatened to leave if they called her parents.

The woman teacher said she argued with her fiancee the first two times the girl stayed at their house because it was inappropriate, but later decided it was safer for her to stay with them rather than risk being on the streets.

The woman said she was "overwhelmed by the complexity of the circumstances", and was tired and stressed by a very serious gastro-intestinal illness.

She said the man's relationship with the girl moved beyond a teacher-student relationship to being a friendship.

The girl was admitted to hospital in 2014 running away and the woman said in retrospect she should have told hospital staff then about the girl's strong attachment to her fiancé and about her stays at their house.

Under cross-examination she said it crossed her mind that her partner would get into trouble if those details were revealed, but she said she did not try to hide the information and she encouraged the girl to tell her counsellors everything they needed to know.

Earlier on Friday the tribunal's chair Mr Johnston addressed the girls' parents and told them the tribunal members could not understand the agony they must have gone through with their daughter and her death.

He said he admired them for being present through the three day hearing.

"I find it impossible to imagine the extent of your pain," he said.

Earlier in the day the male teacher agreed that after telling a social worker at his school that the girl was self-harming, he should have talked to his principal about the situation. He said he did not because he felt obliged by a promise he had made to the girl not to tell anyone.

When he realised that no action was being taken, he felt responsible for looking after the girl.

Previously in the three-day hearing Mr La Hood, said the man's communications to the girl had encouraged an emotional attachment.

He said that in one letter the man had called the girl his "seer and true friend", "a confidante and partner in crime".

In other communications he said he missed her "five or sometimes six days a week" and that he "badly wanted" to climb in her window "right now".

The man said he had been trying to buoy up the girl and it was his nature to talk to people in an effusive manner.

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