Teacher censured over relationship

22:31, Aug 14 2014

A teacher has been censured after he was pursued by an emotionally vulnerable female student and neglected to tell the school principal about the relationship.

Between May 2012 and February 2013 the high school teacher received more than 3000 emails from the student, containing expressions of love, sexual fantasies, explicit photographs and videos, and threats to kill herself.

The teacher, 25, was charged with serious misconduct for engaging in an inappropriate relationship with the student.

In a decision released today, the Teachers' Disciplinary Tribunal said the teacher had first become aware he was the focus of the year 12 student's attention in mid-2011, and sought out her Twitter account to try to find out what was happening.

He followed her using a fake account, and they began communicating using email and MSN chat.

By March 2012, the student became aware it was him, and revealed she had a crush on him. She asked intimate questions which he responded to.

He messaged her back saying she should talk to her teacher as he might have feelings for her.

She later confronted him, and after initially denying it was him he apologised, saying what he had done was unprofessional, and he had a girlfriend and family to consider.

The student then found his number, and they began having text and phone conversations.

In March 2012, they met on the school field. The student told him about the traumatic experiences in her life, and he touched her on the shoulders.

From that meeting, they began to meet outside of school.

On occasions, the student would try to touch his arms, neck and groin area, and grabbed his hand and placed it on her breast.

He asked her to stop and tried to push her away.

In December 2012, she became persistent about having a meeting, as she wanted to give him her diary.

He agreed to meet her for the "last time", and asked her to stop emailing him.

He went to her house in the afternoon, and at first they sat on separate chairs in the lounge. The student then suggested they go to her bedroom as it would be safer if anyone came home.

In response to advances by the student the teacher pushed her away, causing her to fall off the bed, and left her house.

Between May 2012 and February 2013 the teacher failed to report the situation to his principal and allowed the situation to become increasingly inappropriate in the circumstances where the emotional wellbeing of the student was being adversely affected by the relationship, the decision said.

The teacher accepted he should have reported the situation to his principal before matters escalated in the way they did, but in his evidence said he had felt scared and ashamed.

He said he had made a very big mistake and had been blackmailed.

The principal of the school said he supported renewal of the teacher's registration because he was a very good teacher, and deserved to be given a second chance.

He believed the teacher had learned a "very hard lesson" from the experience and now understood the "vital importance" of maintaining appropriate professional distance.

The teacher's girlfriend also gave evidence, and said he had been brought up in a sheltered household. She was his first girlfriend and he had an unsophisticated view of relationships, she said.

The tribunal said the teacher had exhibited a "woeful and very disappointing failure to recognise his transgression of boundaries over a very extended period of time".

When he received one particular email that was so explicit it could not be reproduced in the decision in June 2012, it should have been a trigger to report the matter immediately to his principal and seek guidance on how to deal with it, the decision said.

But the tribunal accepted his serious misconduct was most likely the result of naivety and a general immaturity about relationships.

"The tribunal accepts that he has learned a hard lesson and is unlikely to repeat misconduct of this nature."

It censured the teacher, and ordered he participate in a 12-month support and guidance programme about the issues of understanding professional boundaries between teachers and students.

He must also inform prospective employers of the tribunal decision for three years.

The tribunal noted the outcome did not mean there had been blackmail or manipulative behaviour on the part of the student, or that the teacher's behaviour could have been explained or excused.

"He was the teacher. He should have known better," the tribunal said.

"His future in the profession depends upon him demonstrating that he has learned how to deal with vulnerable students who develop a crush on their teachers in their formative years, and with similar professional boundaries issues."

The decision suppressed the identities of those involved, and the name and location of the school.