31 Jan 2019

Two teachers censured for pushing or pulling children

6:03 pm on 31 January 2019

Two primary school teachers have been censured for pushing or pulling young children, reigniting debate about when teachers can and can't touch their students.

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The Teaching Council said in all cases it had robust processes to ensure that child safety was a priority (file pic) Photo: RNZ/ Nick Monro

The teachers' disciplinary tribunal made a finding of misconduct against a teacher who pushed a 6-year-old toward his desk even though there was no malice or intent to punish the child.

In the other case a teacher pulled a 5-year-old out of his chair causing him to fall and resulting in a finding of serious misconduct.

The Tai Tokerau Principals Association said the cases should never have been heard by the tribunal, and the Principals Federation said it wanted a review of the rules that governed physical restraint of children by teachers.

The rules prohibited the use of physical force by teachers unless a student was about to hurt themselves or someone else and that excuse did not apply to either of the cases published this week.

The first case involved a teacher putting her hands on a misbehaving child's shoulders to push him back to his table and causing the child to cry.

"The teacher explained that she engaged in this behaviour to guide the child back to their seat. She acknowledged she did not use best judgement with a physical response, and her actions will have caused upset and embarrassment to the child. She has expressed regret for what happened," the tribunal's decision said.

It said the teacher's conduct "amounted to misconduct because it involved physical force" but fell short of the threshold for serious misconduct.

The second case involved a teacher, Jean-Marc Risuleo, who grabbed a boy by his arm and pulled him toward a pen the boy had earlier thrown on the floor, the tribunal's decision said.

It said Mr Risuleo said he did not see the boy fall and hit his head but acknowledged he had acted impulsively.

The tribunal ruled that Mr Risuleo's actions adversely affected the child's wellbeing, brought the teaching profession into disrepute, and met the threshold for serious misconduct.

The decision said Mr Risuleo resigned from his job after the incident and no longer wanted to work as a teacher.

It said society had an increasing aversion to the use of force by adults on children.

"Society's view of adults' use of physical force on children, whether in places of learning or in the home has undergone a major refocus over recent decades. This is reflected in

our legislation," the decision said.

The president of the Tai Tokerau Principals Association, Pat Newman, said the child falling to the floor was an accident and no parent would regard either of the two cases as a serious matter.

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Pat Newman Photo: RNZ / Lois Williams

"We've got to a ridiculous stage," he said.

"I don't think any of the politicians in Parliament when they passed the legislation that we're governed under would have thought that we'd get to such ridiculous cases being held up and teachers losing their jobs, because one of them has resigned as a result of this."

Mr Newman said the Teaching Council's complaints assessment committee should never have referred the cases to the disciplinary tribunal.

"They do not have to refer it to the disciplinary tribunal involving lawyers and all the rest of it, they could have dealt with it with a letter saying 'don't do it again'," he said.

The president of the Principals Federation, Whetu Cormick, would not comment on the latest cases, but said five or six years ago it was common for teachers to put their hands on children's backs or shoulders to steer them back to their desks.

He said that did not happen anymore because of the rules around physical restraint and it was time for a rethink.

"Teachers have become more aware of when and when they can't restrain a child and I've asked the various ministers of education over the last year or so that these guidelines and the legislation needs to be reviewed. They are unworkable," Mr Cormick said.

He said students were being allowed to trash rooms and break equipment because teachers could not intervene unless somebody was at imminent threat of harm.

"Young people are getting mixed messages. On one hand you can damage property in the school environment and nothing happens to you however out in the wider community, if you were to damage property whether it be a business or private property then the police would become involved."

The Teaching Council said in all cases it had robust processes to ensure that child safety was a priority.

"The law, both criminal and civil, protects children from unjustified or unreasonable use of force against them," it said.

The council said its Complaints Assessment Committee must refer all cases that may possibly constitute serious misconduct to the disciplinary tribunal.

"Following law change in 2015 there is no discretion for the CAC to make any other decision. When deciding whether an allegation involving physical contact between a teacher and a learner is or may possibly be serious misconduct, the CAC is bound by the law," it said.

It said in the case of Mr Risuleo, the teacher and his representative agreed his conduct was serious misconduct.

The council said in the other case, the teacher agreed she should not have used physical contact to move the child, and the complaints assessment committee agreed it was misconduct not serious misconduct but the initiator of the complaint did not agree on the appropriate outcome, resulting in referral to the tribunal.

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