‘Potential to harm’: Canberra teacher forced out for inappropriate relationships
A Canberra teacher was forced out of the job for forming inappropriate relationships with female students and ignoring several warnings to stop, documents obtained under freedom of information laws reveal.
Parents and management raised repeated concerns about the behaviour before the Education Directorate investigated it in late 2015.
The documents show two other teachers were handed written warnings for sexually harassing colleagues and members of the public, while two staff in other directorates were fired for similar behaviour.
There have been four sexual harassment investigations into Canberra public school staff and at least a further 12 in other ACT Government directorates since 2014.
One teacher was stood down on full pay in November 2015 after concerns were raised about ongoing inappropriate interactions with "vulnerable" female students of an unknown grade.
An Education Directorate spokeswoman said the exchanges did not include sexual contact.
In a letter notifying the teacher of the complaints, raised by parents of the affected student as well as others in the school community, an employee relations manager said the teacher had ignored ongoing cautioning.
The investigation substantiated two serious allegations, which were heavily redacted in the documents.
After proposing to stand down the teacher, the letter read:
"Your conduct in relation to vulnerable young female students including your failure to act on the support, advice, warnings, counselling and directions provided by your supervisors did not lend itself to any other alternative.
You developed and cultivated inappropriate relationship with vulnerable young female students at your school.
Your conduct occurred during school hours and that on occasion it was witnessed by other students, staff and members of the school community.
By allowing these relationships to form, you created a situation that had the potential to cause harm to the students as well as do serious damage to the reputation of the Directorate."
The teacher denied the allegations and was "disingenuous" in the response, employee relations claimed.
The teacher did not accept the sacking, saying it was "an unfair consequence for the identified issues," before offering their resignation in the same letter.
In a statement, an Education Directorate spokeswoman said the teacher was no longer employed in the directorate.
She said these situations are considered in the risk assessment of issuing or cancelling working with vulnerable people registrations.
She did not say whether all parents of the teacher's students were told of the allegations.
"While the circumstances of each case varies, Education Directorate staff prioritise the best interest of each child and this includes informing necessary people or organisations if and when required (such as requirements under mandatory reporting)," the spokeswoman said.
Two more education staff investigated
In separate incidents, two more Education Directorate staff were given written warnings for sexual harassment — this time of colleagues and members of the public.
In June 2015, employee relations reminded one staff member of "previous discussions cautioning you about the appropriateness of your interactions/conversations with females in the school environment, and in particular involving sexual innuendo".
The teacher admitted to four of five allegations, which were again redacted.
They did not respond to a proposed formal warning, which read:
"Harassment and particularly sexual harassment of a member of the public or another public employee is extremely serious and must be treated as such."
The warning was issued and no further action was taken.
Another teacher ignored a written warning proposal in 2014 after a nine-month investigation which found at least one colleague was made to feel unsafe in the workplace through ongoing sexual harassment.
"[This] had the potential to bring the reputation of the directorate into disrepute," the proposal read.
The written warning was issued and it again appears no further action was taken.
It is unknown where the staff worked, but the spokeswoman said they were no longer employed within the directorate.
She said the directorate took all allegations of sexual harassment very seriously.
The directorate judges allegations on the balance of probabilities, according to a policy document. For firing or demotion, it must be satisfied to a "high degree".
In deciding disciplinary action, it considers the nature of the misconduct, damage to the directorate's reputation, guilt admission and past behaviour.
Staff fired in Community Services, Chief Minister directorates
For this story, the ABC obtained sexual harassment allegation documents across all but one ACT Government directorate since January 2014.
There were 16 completed investigations in that time. More could be ongoing, but these would not be included in the documents.
One Community Services staff member was fired in August 2015 for touching a fellow colleague inappropriately and for violent abuse and threats.
The other two allegations, which included serious misconduct by a staff member at the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre in November 2016, were dismissed for lack of evidence.
One Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development employee was also fired, while ACT Policing is investigating a second.
Two of three alleged sexual harassment cases in ACT Health were formally investigated, but the office refused the ABC access to the documents.
Transport Canberra and City Services also refused access to its five complaints, while the Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development directorate reported no investigations.