Teachers union 'protected' Robert Burrett - claim
A teachers union has been accused of "protecting" teacher Robert Burrett before he went on to molest and rape 12 Christchurch schoolgirls, missing a chance to remove him from the profession in the early 2000s.
Pukenui School in Te Kuiti tried to get rid of Burrett, its deputy principal, in 2001 because he was drunk, dishevelled and disorganised.
But according to board chair at the time Steve Parry, the New Zealand Educational Institute (NZEI) made the process extremely difficult.
"They were quite evasive and defensive of the guy, and it frustrated us to a high level," Parry said. "Of course a person has rights and has to be protected, but they were really trying to make things confusing and difficult, they weren't really engaging in the problems we had."
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Burrett was able to move from school to school over a three-decade period without any alarm bells ringing about his past.
Cooper Legal senior associate Amanda Hill said Burrett's victims were failed by teachers, principals, boards of trustees, the Education Council and ultimately the Ministry of Education.
Six months after Pukenui School first initiated proceedings against Burrett the case went to mediation.
A source familiar with the talks said the union officer was told the school had "grave fears" for the quality of education children were receiving under Burrett, although at that stage there was no suggestion he was behaving inappropriately around them.
The source said the "penny finally dropped" with the NZEI. "Once it became evident to NZEI that this guy was completely useless they said 'can you hang on for another six months and we'll help you go through the process to sack him so he never teaches again'."
But the school was desperate to get rid of Burrett by that stage and the board was authorised to pay him whatever it took to get rid of him. In the end he walked away with about $8000.
"It was surprising that NZEI, given the strength of their convictions at mediation, didn't keep tabs on the chap or perhaps report to the Teachers Registration Council," the source said.
Parry said the school was not able to warn anyone about Burrett because it was bound by a confidentiality agreement.
Burrett stayed a registered teacher until after he was convicted last month. It was understood he did some relief teaching until he turned up as a caretaker and bus driver at the Christchurch schools where he molested and raped girls as young as five in an underground shed. Some of the girls were disabled.
Stephanie Mills, the NZEI's director of campaigns, said she could not comment on individual cases. The union acted for members in cases of competency or misconduct "in order that every member receives natural justice and due process".
Mills said it was the employer's role and legal obligation to report teachers where there were claims of incompetency or misconduct.
"We are not in the role of reporting individual teachers, because this is clearly a board's responsibility."
She said the union had actively engaged with the Education Council in the development of registered teachers' criteria and the council's competency processes.
It "strongly supported" the profession taking responsibility for maintaining and enhancing the quality of teachers, she said.