‘I can say as a mother, as a human being and a woman, I’m alert to these things. When it happens right in front of your very eyes it’s black and white … No male teacher should have … done such a thing.’
In the 1990s, Kylie was a teacher’s assistant at a public primary school in New South Wales that had a mix of students with a disability and those without. She worked with a male teacher helping with his class of children with disabilities. The man was often physically and verbally abusive to the children in his class.
On a number of occasions, Kylie witnessed the teacher creating opportunities for himself to be alone with a female child who had severe communication difficulties. Some of these instances included taking the child to the toilet in the men’s toilets, sending Kylie to supervise male children while he spent time one-on-one with the girl, undressing the child completely at a beach, and playing in a ‘very physical’ way with her, and other female children, in a public swimming pool.
‘I found his behaviour to be unacceptable for his profession … I just feel that this man had it so plotted out – he knew how to do things behind the main teacher’s back.’
The man also had opportunity to groom children who didn’t have a disability and he’d often invite ‘a few pretty girls back’ to his class.
Kylie didn’t believe she would receive a fair minded hearing from the headmaster because there was a culture of openly tolerating the man’s behaviour.
‘I did not go to the headmaster because … this man, when I saw him sitting in assemblies, the whole time he would have this [same] child … on his lap, between his legs continually. No other teacher ever did such a thing.’
When Kylie mentioned her suspicions to a senior teacher, her concerns were dismissed. But she was so perturbed by the man’s behaviour that she contacted the district director of the education department. After a discussion of her concerns, the director asked her to submit a written statement, which she did. To Kylie’s frustration, the man continued teaching. She is still not sure if an investigation was ever carried out.
‘The rule is that a male teacher is not allowed to do that [undress a female child] and yet he did and nobody has ever listened or acted upon what I have said … To me it was all people holding onto their jobs and nobody wanted to speak up. That’s how I saw it all.’
Kylie gave a police statement about the man’s behaviour but has never been informed of their investigation or outcomes. She also contacted the Ombudsman with her allegations. The Ombudsman initiated an investigation but, some months later, phoned her to tell her that, ‘[There was] not enough substantial information, [just] a lot of hearsay and we’ll have to leave it be’.
The Department of Education did investigate her complaints after a parent at a different school made similar allegations about the man. However, there were no repercussions for the man. Kylie discovered that he had ‘been popped around to different schools … this man has a lot of stories following him’.
‘He was a massive bully. Totally bullied those children who had nobody to speak up for them. And that went on for the whole time in the class.’
Kylie still feels years later that teacher’s aides are not respected within the school structure and that children with disabilities have an added degree of difficulty in reporting and being believed. She told the Commissioner that for her, ‘It’s about protecting our children who are in the school system where they should be safe’.
‘I think you can have as many rules, laws whatever, written, discussed but it comes to the individual as to how they act … and as far as I’m concerned there’s a lot who are not standing and acting … through this very story.’
The man retired and receives his teacher’s pension. The children in the class have never been asked about the man’s behaviour.