The Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal has held that a teacher is not guilty of serious misconduct despite the teacher having a sexual relationship with an ex-student. The Tribunal decided that the relationship was not “inappropriate”.

Part of the teacher’s role at the school involved teaching Kapa Haka, including teaching the student that he later had a sexual relationship with. The student left the school shortly after turning 18.

The next year the ex-student joined an adult Kapa Haka group that the teacher was involved with. The teacher did not work as a Kapa Haka instructor, but helped with cooking the food.

A sexual relationship between the teacher and ex-student began and the ex-student discovered she was pregnant. The school became aware of the relationship through the birth announcements over social media.

The Tribunal was referred a complaint of serious misconduct.

To make a finding of serious misconduct, the Tribunal had to find that the teacher had contravened a rule of the Teaching Council. In particular, that teachers are prohibited from “being involved in an inappropriate relationship with a student with whom the teacher is, or was when the relationship commenced, in contact with as a result of his or her position as a teacher”.

The Tribunal had to be satisfied that:

a.    The relationship commenced as a result of the teacher’s position as the ex-student’s teacher; and

b.    The relationship was “inappropriate”.

The Tribunal decided that the relationship commenced as a result of the teacher’s position, because there was a connection between the school and the adult Kapa Haka group that the teacher worked for.

However, the Tribunal denied that the relationship was “inappropriate”.

A number of factors are considered when determining whether a relationship is inappropriate. These include the time between when the student-teacher relationship ended and when the sexual relationship began, age difference, the emotional and social maturity of the student, the vulnerability of the student, misconduct during the student-teacher relationship and evidence of the closeness and dependence in the student-teacher relationship.

In this case, there was only three months between the end of the student-teacher relationship and their sexual relationship. The Tribunal considered that this was a short period of time. The teacher and student also had an age difference of 18 years.

However, the Tribunal decided that these factors alone were not enough to find that the relationship was “inappropriate”.

The Tribunal denied that the student was particularly vulnerable, because there was no evidence that she was not capable of forming a consensual relationship. The teacher had no knowledge of any factors which may have made the student susceptible to the relationship.

 There was also no evidence that the student-teacher relationship was not “ordinary”, particularly in terms of closeness and dependence. Further, there was no misconduct during the teacher-student relationship.

The Tribunal concluded that the relationship failed to meet the threshold of “inappropriate”. While the teacher had shown some hesitance at the beginning of the relationship, the Tribunal decided that the openness of the relationship showed that the teacher did not believe he was engaging in inappropriate behaviour.

The Teaching Council’s rules look specifically at the power imbalance between student and teacher, and there was none found in this case.

It is important to be aware of your obligations as a teacher. If you are confused about these obligations, it pays to seek advice from a professional with experience in the area.


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