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VIT regulatory decision

Here is a summary of a recent regulatory decision made by VIT concerning a registered teacher. All names have been removed.

Background

School A notified VIT that it had received allegations that Teacher A had engaged in systematic inappropriate contact with Student A.

The allegations

Teacher A

  • sent emails to the personal email address of Student A as well as a letter to Student A, which contained content of an overly personal and intimate nature
  • offered to pay for, and take Student A, to a public event alone
  • told Student A personal information about Teacher A’s marital relationship and traumatic events in Teacher A’s childhood
  • professed love for Student A
  • hugged Student A in an overly personal and intimate nature, without a valid context
  • gave Student A an item of jewellery.

VIT noted that Teacher A

  • was in a unique position of influence and trust, and appeared to have taken advantage of this position to commence and develop a relationship with a student
  • engaged in ongoing conversations and email communications with Student A that were inappropriate and did not have a valid educational context
  • professed love for Student A and continued to engage in this conduct, even after becoming aware that this communication was making Student A uncomfortable
  • relied on and placed undue pressure on Student A to respond to emails, meet in person, and otherwise fill the role of a friend, partner or dependant
  • used a personal email and Student A’s personal email to engage in the electronic communication, possibly in an attempt to conceal the conduct.

The decision

Based on the information provided, the VIT decided to suspend the registration of Teacher A on an interim basis because it had formed a reasonable belief that Teacher A posed an unacceptable risk of harm to children, and the suspension of Teacher A’s registration was necessary to protect children.

The VIT must conduct an investigation in all cases where it decides to suspend the registration of a teacher on an interim basis, and accordingly commenced an investigation. The VIT must also review the basis of the interim suspension every 30 days to determine whether the teacher's registration needs to continue to be suspended. The teacher can provide information and documents that the VIT must consider when conducting these reviews.

Teacher A provided information about professional development and counselling sessions that they had participated in. The VIT considered the information and determined it was not sufficient to address the unacceptable risk of harm to children.

The Agreement

Teacher A then requested that the VIT enter into an Agreement to suspend Teacher A’s registration for a minimum period of 12 months and to impose conditions on Teacher A’s registration.

The conditions included that during the period of the suspension, Teacher A would engage with a VIT-approved facilitator in VIT-approved professional development relating to the conduct in question and its relevance to the Code of Conduct. The professional development would focus on appropriate interaction with students and maintaining professional boundaries that preserve the teacher / student relationship.

At the conclusion of the program, Teacher A would prepare a written Personal Code of Conduct and a reflective statement to demonstrate what they had learned from the PD. The facilitator would also provide the VIT with a written report about Teacher A’s participation in the PD program, their level of engagement with the PD program and their learnings.

The VIT accepted Teacher A’s request to enter into an Agreement.

The Agreement addressed VIT’s concerns and provided Teacher A with an opportunity to reflect on their conduct, obtain further professional development, and consider what they had learned and how they could embed this in their practise if and when they decide to return to teaching.

This enabled the VIT to address the conduct without further investigation or a Hearing. It also provided clarity to Teacher A about VIT’s concerns, its relevance to teaching, and what they could do to address this conduct.

At the conclusion of the suspension period, Teacher A may apply for a revocation of the suspension of their registration. Whether this will occur will depend on the teacher's compliance with the conditions.

Reflection

When reflecting on this case, consider the following aspects of the Victorian Teaching Profession Code of Conduct.

Victorian Teaching Profession’s Code of Conduct - Principle 1.1

Teachers provide opportunities for all learners to learn. 

The main focus of teaching is the learning of those being taught.

Teachers demonstrate their commitment to their learners in various ways, including by

  • a safe and challenging learning environment
  • effectively and appropriately with their learners.
Victorian Teaching Profession’s 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.