Childcare teacher ate kids' lunches

Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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A Waikato kindy teacher was caught stealing food from children's lunchboxes before either eating it, hiding it or putting it in her pocket.

The case is one of more than a dozen of serious misconduct at Waikato education providers in the past five years.

The 16 cases include sexual relations between teachers and students, sexual violation, possessing child pornography, and convictions for drugs and threatening to kill.

It is the first time that disciplinary decisions specific to Waikato teachers can been revealed as, until now, the Teachers Council has kept all location and identifying details secret.

The council initially refused to provide the information and it has taken more than five months for the Times to obtain it via the Official Information Act.

A teacher at an unnamed Waikato childcare centre was censured in April after she was caught on camera stealing food from her pupils' lunchboxes in November, 2011.

Staff did not believe the children when they first raised the alarm that food was missing, a Teachers' Council Complaints Assessment Committee decision said.

It was not until the teacher was caught on closed-circuit television that the centre took action.

She was seen opening lunchboxes, removing food and either placing it in her pockets, a plastic bag or eating it.

The committee found that, despite the modest value of the food items, stealing from children was at the "serious end of the spectrum" of unacceptable behaviour.

The woman, who made no excuses for her behaviour, was also ordered to declare the serious misconduct to prospective employers for five years.

"She emphasised that she was trying to put this incident behind her, that there would be no repetition, and that she was hoping to move on with her career," the decision said. Six Waikato teachers have also been barred from the classroom for having inappropriate sexual relations with students, including one case of underage abuse.

This follows revelations by the Times last month that South Waikato school teacher Rueben James Parinui Tapara is facing charges of sexually abusing boys in his care and supplying them with cannabis between 2010 and August this year.

In one case, heard by the Disciplinary Tribunal in September 2009, a male teacher had sexual relations with three male students over four years.

The teacher also sent explicit text messages and sexual photographs of himself and made sexual sounds over the telephone to the students.

Another Waikato teacher faced the tribunal in 2010 for making repeated inappropriate and sexualised comments to teenage girls.

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He said words to the effect of, "Bend over and I'll take a photo of your tits" and "When your nipples are hard you get horny."

One male teacher, aged 29, was sent to prison for three years and six months for forcing a 13-year-old girl to perform oral sex on him.

In all cases of a serious sexual nature the teachers were formally censured and had their registrations cancelled.

Teachers Council director Peter Lind said cases of serious misconduct brought the teaching profession into disrepute and compromised its role in the community.

"Overall, you've got to say that the vast majority of teachers act honourably and professionally and so whenever there's a slip that's why it's such a shock to everybody because that's not the expectation of the profession."

He said the cases ranged in severity from significant betrayals of trust to misjudgments around the use of social media.

Thorough vetting of teachers was needed to reduce the chance of serious cases of misconduct occurring in schools, Mr Lind said.

"I don't think you could ever say you can totally prevent or eradicate everything because of the nature that's involved in some of these cases."

- Waikato Times

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