‘Because the whole thing had been case-managed from above, the normal process that I would go through was circumvented, and I would be the first to admit that my response in the situation could have been more vigorous or persistent but at the time I just didn’t know what to do.’
In the mid-1980s, Sid was employed as a school counsellor in the western Sydney region. He had a ‘base school’ but would travel across all levels of schooling in the district. He would ‘see kids from preschool age right through to whole families if necessary’.
‘In the course of a week I would travel around … [with] one or two days per week at the high school.’
One day a high school student came to see him.
‘He explained that he was very frightened … That the … teacher had actually locked him in the storeroom and physically restrained him while he fondled his genitals.’
Sid dealt with challenging situations like this every day, although this was the first time he had had to deal with a complaint made about a teacher. He knew the procedures to follow.
‘There were processes in place. I was the school counsellor. I was the person responsible for children at risk … I followed the normal procedure. I notified the school principal.’
The principal too, followed procedure in reporting and notifying the parents and the regional director. Further instances of the teacher’s violation of the Education Department’s regulations came to light. Sid talked to the boys involved and ‘I learnt what happened, happened’.
Sid told the Commissioner that he expected, ‘as a child protection professional, to be fully involved’. The process at the time meant that Sid would be included in ‘parental interviews, interviews with the students, written assessments, starting a departmental file … and [then] following through [making sure] they were properly supported and properly counselled … dealing with the police and dealing with the Department of Youth and Community Services whom I thought would inevitably be involved. And I also expected to testify before a departmental inquiry’.
Sid wasn’t officially informed of the progress of the case and the school’s student welfare officer told him that, ‘the matter had been taken up by the regional director’.
‘He also told me that the matter had become pretty politicised. That the teacher was bragging that he’d obtained support from the New South Wales Teachers Federation … but he was also claiming that he was being victimised under the anti-discrimination legislation.’
Sid was troubled by the case and the way the authorities handled it.
‘When I spoke with the principal, I remember the conversation very clearly … He said, “Sid, I’ve got a file half an inch thick on this matter” and, he said, “The department is only willing to give an offer of a transfer” … [The principal’s] strong conviction was that the [teacher should be dismissed]. I had the very strong impression that he [the principal] was being gagged and that my involvement was being sidelined, which was exceptional and unusual.’
The teacher was transferred to another school, a boys’ school. Over 30 years later, Sid still thinks about the case.
‘I found it deeply disturbing at the time. I still find it troubling. There was nothing about his teaching or his character that inspired protection. I don’t believe it was the principal. It was … pretty clear that the case had been managed from above.’
Sid also, with hindsight, knows he should have done more at the time.
‘What did I do? Not enough, not enough in retrospect. The whole matter happened very quickly. From the time we started the process to the time the teacher was gone it was fleeting … it seemed at the time there was nothing that I could do. That I was hopelessly out-gunned. The principal expressed the idea that … he was at the mercy of forces much larger than himself.’
The events significantly impacted Sid’s life. He left counselling after experiencing a period of ill health.
‘I realised I was unable to function properly in my role and I felt guilty – which I was – and responsible and inadequate and professionally ill-equipped to really do my job properly.’
But he couldn’t forget the case. In 2001, ‘there was a police initiative to crackdown on child abuse and I testified to two policemen once again, trying to resurrect [the matter] … I thought … I’d hand it over to them’. Sid doesn’t know what came of his statement or the man, who could still be teaching today.
‘These are some of the questions in my mind and I’ve never had any of them properly answered. Why wasn’t the teacher charged by the police? I think the answer was they were never brought in, but the question then becomes why weren’t they brought in? Why wasn’t he charged with violations of departmental regulations? It appeared that didn’t happen – I can’t understand why he wasn’t sacked. It appears to me there was effectively a cover up … Why would a department transfer a known paedophile to a boys’ school where he can continue his activities?
‘And from a personal point of view, how long is the chain of abuse trailing behind and before that particular individual? … I had a duty of care to protect the students and I failed that. I believe that there were policies and guidelines within the department which were not followed and that troubled me greatly.’
Sid thanked the Commissioner for listening to his story. ‘I feel I can rest now because at least I know action will definitely be taken.’