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Prestigious school opens review after disgraced staffer's inappropriate relationship

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Tue, 4 Jul 2023, 3:14PM
Taurapa, formerly known as Connor Taurapa Matthews, had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student at a private girls' school while he was a teacher.
Taurapa, formerly known as Connor Taurapa Matthews, had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student at a private girls' school while he was a teacher.

Prestigious school opens review after disgraced staffer's inappropriate relationship

Sam Sherwood,
Publish Date
Tue, 4 Jul 2023, 3:14PM

WARNING: This story details sexual harm and may be upsetting.

One of the country’s most prestigious schools has opened an independent investigation into the employment of a staffer who had an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old student from another school.

The relationship involved the sharing of nude images and sex acts in a car.

The teacher, legally known as Taurapa but previously known as Connor Taurapa Matthews, was employed as a te reo Māori teacher at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School in Christchurch in 2018.

He was simultaneously a house tutor residing in a boarding house at Christ’s College, which has a strong relationship with Rangi Ruru.

On Tuesday, Christ’s College Board chair Hugh Lindo told the Herald the school had appointed barrister Janna McGuigan to undertake an independent investigation of all apsects of Taurapa’s employment. This would include talking with those affected.

“I invite anyone who has further information to make direct contact with me so that I can facilitate their involvement in the investigation.

“Christ’s College should have initiated its own investigation into Taurapa’s behaviour as soon as we had been made aware of Ms Y’s complaint. He should have been suspended immediately and removed from the campus while an investigation was undertaken.

 “The decision not to investigate at the time is one of the matters that the independent investigation will be considering.”

Over the course of a year, Taurapa engaged in a relationship with the Year 12 student. Both Taurapa and the teenager were heavily involved in performing arts at the school.

\Usually, the names of students in Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal cases are suppressed but in this case, Helena Dray asked the tribunal to waive her name suppression.

Dray and Taurapa would regularly communicate via social media as part of a te reo study group chat.

The content of the discussions between Taurapa and the other four students was innocuous to begin with, but Taurapa then began to message Dray directly.

The conversation became personalised and occurred outside of school hours. When Dray turned 16 in April 2018, Taurapa gifted her a writing journal containing a poem entitled “Words of love”.

Around this time, Dray said Taurapa began to ask about sexualised topics, including masturbation.

Eventually, the pair spent time alone together. This first occurred in Taurapa’s Rangi Ruru classroom, watching a musical together on a bed of pillows and blankets in front of a projector.

Dray said it was there Taurapa “kissed me and felt me up, too”.

Over the following month of May, while working together on a musical production, Taurapa would meet Dray in dressing rooms, kissing and groping her.

Dray said one room in particular was chosen due to its lack of security cameras.

Taurapa would also offer to drop Dray home after rehearsals. He would hold her hand in the car and tell her to duck down if driving around town. He’d say goodbye with a kiss.

The actions left Dray feeling conflicted, used, and emotionally drained, she told the tribunal.

While Dray said when it came to sex there appeared to be a line, such as Taurapa not coming to her house when invited, the pair discussed if “something further” should happen. The relationship eventually became sexual.

Sexual images were also shared, with Dray telling the tribunal Taurapa would send them on “multiple occasions, too many to count”.

Dray briefly agreed to a request from Taurapa to perform a sex act on camera, but she quickly declined to do anything further.

“Ms Dray says that throughout all of their involvement, Taurapa would often tell her to make sure she deleted her messages with him from her phone and for her to ‘not leave a trace’,” the tribunal’s decision said.

The relationship “fizzled out” in early 2019. Shortly before he resigned from Rangi Ruru, Dray tried to make contact but was told by Taurapa “my lawyer has told me not to contact you anymore”.

Dray said it had taken time to realise the effect the relationship had on her. She now has difficulty engaging with male authority figures and struggled to continue her te reo studies.

Taurapa was also engaged in “inappropriate messaging”, with a girl referred to as Ms Y.

Ms Y was 16 when he began messaging her, and it continued when she turned 17. Ms Y, who attended another high school, met him around late September to early October 2018 at Christ’s College.

During the 2018/19 summer holidays, Taurapa would ask Ms Y for pictures of her in a bikini. He was often topless in bed when they would Snapchat each other.

In February 2019, Ms Y’s boss received a complaint from her parents about Taurapa messaging her.

Taurapa was also spoken to about the complaint. He then messaged Ms Y asking her to delete all of the messages that she saved from their conversations. She obliged but did not delete all of the screenshots she had saved. Taurapa said he would not be contacting her again.

In March 2019, concerns were forwarded from Christ’s College to Rangi Ruru.

On 19 March a meeting was held with Taurapa. During the meeting he denied ever meeting Dray outside of the school, but said he had dropped her off following a rehearsal for a show as he did not want her to walk home in the dark.

Taurapa was invited to a disciplinary meeting on March 26, 2019, and resigned the next month.

Concerns were eventually also passed on to police, who notified the Ministry of Education (MoE).

Taurapa said in his initial response that he denied the allegations in relation to Dray, and said he had done nothing wrong.

He later accepted he’d engaged in serious misconduct and breached his professional obligations.

‘The most serious conduct that comes before us’

Taurapa chose not to engage in the tribunal process, other than filing a statement denying a romantic relationship occurred.

”We do not accept Taurapa’s denials,” the tribunal ruled. “The entire account of Ms Dray is found proven.

“This type of conduct strikes at the heart of the teacher-student relationship. It is at the most serious end of serious misconduct cases that come before the Tribunal.”

Taurapa’s registration as a teacher was cancelled.

While Dray herself did not seek name suppression, both Christ’s College and Rangi Ruru did.

A spokesperson for Rangi Ruru said both schools made arguments in favour of suppression at a time before Dray asked the tribunal to waive her right to name suppression.

Taurapa, a wedding celebrant, also sought name suppression, arguing because he is Māori he would suffer “tabloid-style” coverage due to racial bias.

The tribunal said the risk was not real or appreciable and Taurapa was denied suppression.

Rangi Ruru Board of Governors Chair Nicki Carter said in a statement to the Herald the school was made aware of the allegations of “serious misconduct” in March 2019.

“As soon as the school was made aware of the allegations the teacher was stood down, an internal investigation was initiated, and the matter was referred to the Teaching Council. The teacher resigned from their position in April 2019, whilst the school’s investigation was being undertaken.

“We strongly condemn the behaviour of this former teacher.”

“Teaching is a privilege, and behaviour which threatens the safety and wellbeing of any student is completely unacceptable. We are incredibly disappointed that the former teacher broke the trust placed in them.”

The Tribunal’s findings followed publicity about the “inappropriate behaviour” of Andrew Maclennan, an elite sports coach, and former teacher who “intermittently” worked at the school and who was also investigated by the Teaching Council, Lindo said.

“Christ’s College has initiated an independent review of its employment practices by Child Matters, a specialist in the development of effective child protection policy, procedure and education regarding staff recruitment. This review is now under way.”

Taurapa previously worked for Stuff.

In a statement, Stuff confirmed he was hired in July last year as a full-time te reo Māori translator.

A spokesperson said in a statement: “Taurapa is no longer an employee of Stuff.”

Taurapa has been approached for comment.


Where to get help:
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you've ever experienced sexual assault or abuse and need to talk to someone, contact Safe to Talk confidentially, any time 24/7:
• Call 0800 044 334
• Text 4334
• Email [email protected]
• For more info or to web chat visit safetotalk.nz
Alternatively contact your local police station - click here for a list.
If you have been sexually assaulted, remember it's not your fault.


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