Principals/teachers “ruined” by long inquiries
Tim Williams, Education Reporter, The Sunday Mail 10 April 2016
Principals and teachers are having their careers ruined by police-style investigations into allegations of “relatively minor” wrongdoings that, in some cases, drag on for more than a year, school leaders say.
The SA State School Leaders Association says the Education Department is employing private investigators as part of “special investigations” which involve principals being stood down.
Association Chief Executive John Gregory said there should be a clear distinction between serious criminal matters such as allegations of child abuse or serious fraud that should be dealt with by police, and lesser matters that should be resolved by local education directors.
Instead, he said a special unit in the department – partly staffed by former police officers – was treating their targets as “guilty until proven innocent” over “relatively minor” issues.
Mr Gregory said sometimes the issues were as minor as preschool directors breaching policy by removing a shared laptop overnight to keep working at home.
Other accusations included sexual harassment, overworking or bullying staff, nepotism or conflicts of interest in hiring or making of school payments, and bringing inappropriate material to school.
“What you get is someone who is dark on the principal putting together (a list of) a few of these sorts of things and an investigation is launched.” Mr Gregory said.
“We’ve had people taken out of schools for more than a year, nothing found against them but their careers are in tatters.
“The cloud doesn’t lift.”
The department would not confirm the use of private investigators or reveal numbers of investigations, but Mr Gregory said his association dealt with at least eight a year and provide legal support in some instances.
The department said such legal interventions could delay the resolution of matters that otherwise should be “pretty straightforward”.
It was trying to “expedite” proceedings but would not “dilute the necessary robustness of the investigations or place students and the wider school community at risk”.
A recent SA Primary Principals Association bulletin said members had raised concerns over the presumption of guilt and “very drawn out and debilitating” investigation process, with talks taking place with the department about “the criteria for removing principals from their schools and the ways in which support can be provided”.
President Pam Kent told the Sunday Mail she was “satisfied” the department was improving its processes but the length of investigations was “still very concerning”.