Conduct unbecoming: the dilemma of a school's responsibility in respect of teacher misconduct towards pupils
It was recently remarked that if the infamous schoolmaster, Wackford Squeers, in Charles Dickens's Nicholas Nickleby, was around today his pupils would probably accuse him of assault and the police would be paying a visit to his school, Dotheboys Hall. Though a casual comment, a great deal of truth lies therein. In the 'rights culture' of today, the manner in which adults may exercise authority over children is markedly different to that of even 20 years ago. The majority of teachers act in a professional manner and carry out their duties, often under great pressure, with the best interests of their students uppermost in their minds. However, this is not always the case. With reasonable frequency, there are reports of teachers behaving towards their students in ways which range from inappropriate to culpable. In the worst scenario the accusations are of sexual abuse, but there are also those of physical or verbal bullying. There is nowadays an increased recognition of the harmful and lasting effects of different forms of abuse, and the responsibility of those in authority to prevent it happening. In recent years New Zealand school administrators have been faced with dealing appropriately with allegations of a teacher's misconduct in a variety of different ways towards their students. A school board of trustees has a dilemma in that it must discharge dual responsibilities, in respect of its students and its staff. This article examines the legal implications of those responsibilities. It also considers the responsibility of a school in a wider context — to other schools and to the community at large.