‘Everything was fine. I was a pretty good student, pretty good marks, pretty good everything really’, Dylan told the Commissioner.
That’s Dylan’s life when he was 15, a high school student in a small South Australian town, in the mid-2000s. At least, it’s how it was until the day he was called to the principal’s office, and accused of accessing pornographic material on his school internet account.
He had reported problems with his internet account just a few days before. His credit was being drained much more quickly than it should have been. The school’s investigation found the credit had been depleted by visits to a lengthy list of pornographic sites.
‘Some of it was just disturbing, the stuff that I was apparently meant to have accessed. Rape photos, rape sex pictures, teenage tits’, Dylan said. ‘I denied the whole thing because it wasn’t my access and I knew nothing about it.’
Over the weeks and months that followed, Dylan was repeatedly hauled into the principal’s office to face the same charge. ‘The last one I was just wild. Like I had tried to deny my usage of it for weeks and no one would care, so I just walked out. I said, "Well, if you’re not going to listen to me, I’m not going to bother being here”.
‘I’d always loved school. I didn’t want to go any more.’
The one comfort throughout this time was the attention he received from one of his teachers, Phil Godfrey. Godfrey ‘really took me under his wing, and just spent his whole time convincing me that the school was out to get me and he was going to keep me safe’, Dylan recalled.
When Dylan got into trouble in his other classes, his teachers would send him to Godfrey’s class. Godfrey allowed Dylan to use his computer and gave him pirated software and other online tools. ‘Just things that at the time as a 15-year-old kid I went, "This is pretty awesome, like, I’ve got teachers giving me all this cool shit".’
Meanwhile, the accusations against Dylan didn’t go away. He maintained his denials and was suspended from school for lying. Finally, he was able to establish that on some occasions when his log-in had been used, it couldn’t have been by him.
‘Effectively I had started my own investigation into myself’, he said.
He brought in payslips to show he’d been at work when his login had been used, and evidence that he’d been out of town at other times. The school finally accepted there must be another culprit. By then Dylan was close to being expelled.
‘Every time I went into school, I had to spend time with [Godfrey], because he was the only teacher who’d have me’, he said. He received a letter of apology from the school, and $5 of internet credit. ‘No one told me any more’. Later that year he dropped out of school, leaving before he finished Year 10.
About four years later, Dylan had a management job in hospitality and was invited to a private school to address a group of students about employment. He didn’t talk up the benefits of education: ‘I sort of said, “For me personally, I don’t believe that you need your schooling, it’s more about what you do afterwards … That’s been my situation”.’
A teacher approached him after the talk, and asked to hear his story. ‘I thought “Okay” … I went through it and he just stopped at the end and he goes “And who’s helped you with it?” I said “No one". And he said, “Well, I’m going to be that person”.’
The teacher organised counselling sessions for Dylan. With support from the counsellor, he began uncovering the details of his school’s investigation and seeking some accountability for the way he’d been treated.
He discovered that the person accessing the pornography has been his teacher, Phil Godfrey. Seeing the details of what and when Godfrey had accessed online was a shock. At the time Godfrey’s attention had been welcome, Dylan said. ‘But you sit here now and you go, "What was going to happen? If I didn’t get out when I got out, what was the next step?"’
Godfrey had claimed he was testing the school’s internet filters. He was given a formal warning by the Department of Education and Child Development (DECD). Dylan later discovered that at another school, a few years later, Godfrey had again accessed explicit pornography through a student’s internet account. Once again, he’d been warned but allowed to continue teaching.
In the years since, Dylan’s determination and persistence have led to several inquiries into how the matter was dealt with. One of his main concerns was his treatment by the school principal.
‘No student should be belittled and put in that situation – no help, nothing, like just we’ll keep suspending you, even though you‘ve done nothing wrong. And I was physically dragged out of classes – I was abused in that office like you would not believe.’
Another was Godfrey’s ongoing employment. The DECD had allowed him to keep teaching. He was cleared by the Teachers’ Registration Board, which accepted his story about checking internet filters. Police were not able to fully investigate because they could not locate evidence.
‘They are saying that we needed to be notified in 2004 because we could have got the computer, we could have had access to all of the records and documents’, Dylan said. The matter became a big media story, and after another DECD investigation Godfrey was eventually moved to a non-teaching role.
Dylan has met with the head of DECD and with the South Australian premier, and put forward his suggestions for change. Replacing the DECD’s Parents’ Complaint Line with an Education Complaints Line is one that has been implemented already, but he remains deeply unhappy with his treatment by the DECD.
‘No one has publicly acknowledged, or even in writing, acknowledged that I’ve done nothing wrong’, he said. Many of the documents he’s seen are full or errors, even those produced by a South Australian ICAC inquiry into the DECD’s investigations.
‘It claims I had a history in school of accessing pornography on their internet account, which is completely and utterly untrue … I still to this day think that I am fighting to clear myself.’
Dylan has been belittled and bullied by the DECD, he feels. He raised issues and no one wanted to listen. ‘I was dismissed as someone that was unimportant’, he wrote in a letter to them. ‘How many people in your system haven’t had their voice heard? … How many people left your system and became nothing because they don’t have the fight that I have?
'What has the department done to ensure that students can have a voice, that students can raise an issue when the school won’t listen? That is all I wanted.’