Teachers resign from an Upper Hutt school after being sexually harassed by students
Two teachers have resigned from St Patrick's College, Silverstream, after being sexually harassed by students, and it is understood that legal action is being taken.
A letter sent to parents of the Upper Hutt school from rector Gerard Tully on Thursday morning said the two female staff members decided to resign as a result of the "considerable distress" they experienced.
Four year 9 boys were suspended from the school in early March after filming the teachers inappropriately, in a case the school described at the time as "most distressing".
Education Minister Hekia Parata said on Thursday afternoon: "My understanding is that there is some legal action in respect of this case, and I expect that the board of the school will be concerned, and will be taking responsible measures."
Tully said in a statement: "As a result of the considerable distress experienced by two of our women staff members from an incident of sexual harassment in February, they have each decided that they are unable to continue employment at the college and have resigned.
"We acknowledge, with thanks, their dedication and work in our community. We remain committed to developing within all our students the appreciation of, and respect for, the inherent dignity of each person.
"In our particular environment, this specifically includes the appropriate and respectful treatment of women and girls."
A parent with a son at the school said the resignations were a terrible move, while the boys who harassed the teachers remained at school.
"I am gutted that the school has shown our sons you can get away with sexually harassing their teachers."
The boys' suspensions were lifted days later, and they were allowed to return to school.
Sexual abuse survivor and victim advocate Louise Nicholas said it sounded as if the teachers had been put in a position in which "they felt they had to leave because of what their students had done".
She described the situation as a "hugely sad set of circumstances", and said the teachers' departure was a massive loss to the school and the community.
If they had stayed, the women would have had to face almost daily the students who harassed them. "There would be no trust in these children – they would feel extremely uncomfortable."
She hoped that, if they wanted to keep teaching, the women would find roles elsewhere, and that the Ministry of Education would help with that.
At the time, Tully said the school's board of trustees discipline sub-committee had decided it was best the boys remained at the school, and "affect positive change" by working with them.
New Zealand School Trustees Association (NZSTA) president Lorraine Kerr said she did not know the details of the case, but board decisions were never taken lightly.
There was a rigorous process that all boards needed to follow, including reporting back to the Ministry of Education.
"What most boards try to do is the right thing by the students and the rest of the school. But we would hope stand-downs, exclusions and expulsions are not used willy-nilly for boards to get rid of kids."
Schools should instead look at acknowledging why the students were in trouble in the first place, and think about what they could do to help them, remembering they had an obligation to every other student in the school. They also had an obligation to staff, Kerr said.
Post Primary Teachers Association president Jack Boyle said while he could not speak to the facts of the case, it was critical teachers were protected and supported while teaching. Schools also needed to be safe places for students.
He said it would be an incredibly difficult situation for the school to be in, and he hoped the young people involved had had the learning they needed following their actions.