1 MARCH 2021
As part of VIT’s role to provide for the safety and wellbeing of children and young people, we investigate allegations of improper conduct by teachers.
The VIT receives notifications and complaints relating to teacher conduct from a variety of sources, including Victoria Police, the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) and employers.
VIT prioritises complaints and notifications according to the level of risk the teacher’s alleged conduct poses to the safety and wellbeing of children, and then undertakes an assessment to determine whether the matter requires investigation.
Here is a summary of a recent regulatory decision made by VIT concerning a registered teacher. All names have been removed.
The principal of School A notified VIT that Teacher A’s employment at the school was terminated following an investigation into allegations of an inappropriate relationship between Teacher A and Student A, a year 12 student.
The allegations were raised with the principal of the school by Student A’s parents after Student A moved in with, and commenced a sexual relationship with, Teacher A following Student A’s graduation from year 12.
During its investigation, VIT obtained a significant amount of witness statements and documentary evidence, in support of the allegations.
VIT’s investigation found evidence to support the allegations that Teacher A violated the professional relationship between a teacher and student by inappropriately initiating, maintaining and encouraging a close, personal and intimate relationship with Student A while Student A was a student of the school.
In particular, the evidence indicated that, while Student A was a student at the school, Teacher A
- gave Student A artwork
- disclosed personal matters
- sent overly familiar emails both in and out of school context, including an invitation to catch up over the break between years 11 and 12, an invitation to phone Teacher A at home and agreeing to Student A’s request to have coffee
- took Student A out for coffee without a valid context and went to the beach with Student A
- encouraged Student A to join a gym of which Teacher A was a member, trained with Student A regularly and was witnessed ‘spotting’ Student A and training with Student A closely;
- continued to attend the gym with Student A after being told to cease contact with Student A by the principal of the school
- agreed to Student A’s request to visit Teacher A at Teacher A’s home when Teacher A had been drinking either prior to or after Student A’s request (Student A did not end up attending Teacher A’s house on this occasion for other reasons)
- received a letter from Student A’s parents outlining their concerns about Teacher A’s contact with Student A and then allegedly stated to Student A words to the effect of “you are 18 and you are old enough to make your own decisions”
- engaged in frequent telephone discussions and text messages with Student A, both inside and outside school hours and without a valid context, including after being advised by the principal of the school to cease contact with Student A.
Teacher A was Student A’s teacher for grades 7 – 10. Student A then moved to a different campus of the school for grades 11 – 12. Teacher A did not teach Student A during grades 11 – 12 and had no valid reason for contacting Student A during those years.
Teacher A did not cooperate with VIT throughout the investigation process and failed to respond to the final allegations. During the course of the school’s investigation, Teacher A denied the majority of allegations and maintained mistreatment by the school but admitted to commencing a sexual relationship with Student A in late December, shortly after Student A finished year 12.
Having considered the investigation report, VIT determined to refer the allegations to a formal hearing on the basis that the allegations provided evidence of possible serious misconduct and a lack of fitness to teach.
When reflecting on this case, consider the following aspects of the Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Conduct Principle 1.5
Teachers are always in a professional relationship with their learners, whether at the education setting where they teach or not.
Teachers hold a unique position of influence and trust that should not be violated or compromised. They exercise their responsibilities in ways that recognise there are limits or boundaries to their relationships with learners. Teachers should consider how their decisions and actions may be perceived by others. Teachers should be aware of the specific vulnerabilities of learners when determining appropriate professional boundaries. The following examples outline some of those limits.
A professional relationship will be violated if a teacher
- engages in communications with a learner beyond the boundaries of a professional relationship without a valid reason, including via written / electronic / online means (including social media)
- gives gifts to learners or their parents / carers / families that could be reasonably perceived as showing bias or favouritism.
A professional relationship may be compromised if a teacher
- socialises with learners (including online and via social media) outside of a professional context
- has a sexualised relationship with a former learner within two years of the learner completing their senior secondary schooling or equivalent.
In all circumstances, the former learner must be at least 18 before a relationship commences.