6 Apr 2016

School sex abuse allegations kept from police

8:44 pm on 6 April 2016

The Education Council's Disciplinary Tribunal has censured a former school principal and criticised a board of trustees for failing to alert authorities to sexual allegations against a teacher.

It was the first time the council had acted against a registered teacher for failing to report concerns of serious misconduct.

The case followed offending by Charles Harter, who was sentenced in 2014 to three years and four months prison for indecently assaulting girls while working for a Hawke's Bay primary school.

The council's disciplinary tribunal said the school's principal at the time, Paul Bremer, should have alerted police to allegations about Harter and his failure to do so amounted to serious misconduct.

The school's board clearly breached its statutory obligation to report Harter to the Education Council, and it also should not have reached a confidential agreement that prevented it from communicating clearly with parents about the reasons for the teacher's departure from the school.

The tribunal's decision said Harter worked at the school as a part-time music and drama teacher from 2012 to 2014.

During that time there were two complaints about him giving children lollies, and two of him throwing a chair.

In June 2014 a parent told Mr Bremer that Harter had indecently assaulted her daughter by touching her bottom. A few days later two girls told the principal that Harter swore and had touched their bottoms.

Mr Bremer told the tribunal he was under the impression the girls' parents were reluctant to take matters further and did not want their daughters identified.

The school's board met to discuss the complaints and the board's chair later met Harter who said he had touched the first girl's bottom accidentally during a play-fight with the child.

The board later reached a confidential agreement with Harter and parents were told that he had left the school for health reasons.

At the end of July and early August further allegations emerged and parents took their complaints to police who investigated.

It was only then that the school's board decided to make a mandatory report about Harter to the Education Council.

The tribunal's decision said the board appeared to have focused on the problem as an employment issue and on employment law rather than on its obligations under the Education Act.

The board was Harter's employer and should have reported him to the Education Council after he left the school and if not then, then after the complaints made following his departure.

The tribunal's decision said Mr Bremer should have reported Harter to police after the first complaint and certainly after the allegations he received a few days later.

"We have concluded that he failed to discharge his responsibility by failing to report Harter to the authorities at a point when he had sufficient information in front of him to recognise, and should have recognised, that Harter presented a risk to children," the tribunal said.

"Whatever approach the school's board was taking in dealing with the employment situation, it was incumbent upon him to inform the authorities and in doing so initiate an enquiry which would both reveal whether or not Harter was guilty of sexual abuse of children in the past and make sure that, if he was, there was no ongoing abuse.

"And we have concluded that the respondent's failure to discharge that duty amounts to serious misconduct."