WARNING: This story details sexual harm and may be upsetting.
A private girls’ school that employed a teacher who had an inappropriate relationship with a 16-year-old student, has had two other former teachers found to have committed “serious misconduct” towards young women.
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.
Taurapa’s misconduct was made public on Monday after a suppression order lapsed.
An email from Rangi Ruru Board of Governors chairwoman Nicki Carter was then sent to parents.
The email said that in March 2019, the school became aware of allegations of “serious misconduct” by Taurapa relating to a student, which took place during 2018 and 2019.
“The school acted promptly and appropriately as soon as it was made aware of the allegations, and the teacher was stood down immediately while an investigation was initiated. The teacher resigned from their position at Rangi Ruru in April 2019 while the school’s investigation was being undertaken.”
Carter said “proper process was followed” and the matter was referred to the Teaching Council.
“Our thoughts are with those impacted by this behaviour, and we commend the bravery of those who provided evidence in the case.
“We are incredibly disappointed that the former teacher breached professional standards and the trust placed in them. Teaching is a privilege, and high standards are something we expect our teaching team to uphold.”
The school’s board of governors reviewed the matter and had “complete confidence” in the principal’s management of the “serious misconduct”.
Carter said the school was “very disappointed” to recently learn of a former teacher, Andrew Maclennan, employed by Rangi Ruru from 2001 until December 2005, and his “serious misconduct” with a young athlete he was coaching in 2008.
“We are unaware of any complaints about this teacher’s conduct while he was employed by the school. Our thoughts are with the young person affected by his unacceptable behaviour.”
Carter said it was “likely” that the case involving Taurapa would “attract media attention”.
“It is also a possibility that in their reporting, the media will mention a historic serious misconduct case involving former teacher Gerard Coulson, which was made public in 2011. Both the historic and more recent case relate to individual former staff members and their behaviour and in both cases the school acted promptly and appropriately.”
Coulson, who was a teacher at Rangi Ruru Girls’ School, and married to another teacher at the school with children, quit over an affair with an 18-year-old Year 13 student.
The school became aware of their relationship in 2011 and began an investigation into the affair when he returned to school.
In a statement to the Herald on Tuesday evening Carter said the cases relating to Coulson and Taurapa related to “former staff members and their individual behaviour”.
“The school undertook appropriate vetting and reference checks, and in both instances, there was no reason not to employ these former employees.
“Rangi Ruru treats professional teacher and staff conduct with the utmost seriousness, and policies and procedures, as well as ongoing training and development to ensure clear and defined expectations for all staff. Andrew Maclennan worked at Rangi Ruru between 2001-2005. He was not employed by Rangi Ruru at the time of his misconduct in 2008.”
Andrew Maclennan was found to have had a sexual relationship with a teenage athlete. Photo / NZME
Former Rangi Ruru principal Julie Moor said at the time the school “recently” became aware of rumours circulating.
She said a mandatory serious misconduct report about the teacher had been made to the Teachers’ Council this week.
“We understand that the staff member may not have acted illegally, but his behaviour is unacceptable and a breach of trust for our entire school community,” she said.
It was believed the relationship had now finished, she said.
In her email to parents this week, Carter said the school took professional teacher and staff conduct with the “utmost seriousness”.
“Student safety and wellbeing will always be Rangi Ruru’s first priority, and we want to ensure all students have a school environment where they feel comfortable, safe and happy.
“Regardless of the era in which it occurred, behaviour that threatens the safety and wellbeing of any student is completely unacceptable, and we are committed to following the procedures outlined by the Teaching Council, as well as reviewing our own policies and procedures on a regular basis.
“We appreciate that this information will be upsetting for many and acknowledge that the serious misconduct of these former teachers is a distressing breach of trust for our school community.”
Support was available for affected students and staff, she said.
A parent of a student at Rangi Ruru, who wished to remain anonymous, said she wanted to have learned of Taurapa’s behaviour from the school.
“Instead, I found out by reading the Herald. The school did eventually send an email but after reading it, I’m left with even more questions.
“Why was he allowed to resign quietly and reinvent himself with seemingly no restrictions on him being around young people? It’s not good enough that the school enabled him to do that. I look at my daughter and it’s hard for me to understand this kind of predatory behaviour from a grown man in a position of such incredible power versus his teenage student.”
Christ’s College Board chair said the school had appointed a barrister Janna McGuigan to undertake an independent investigation. Photo / NewstalkZB
On Tuesday, Christ’s College Board chairman Hugh Lindo told the Herald the school had appointed barrister Janna McGuigan to undertake an independent investigation of all aspects 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 because of 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 contact him but Taurapa said “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 the screenshots she had saved. Taurapa said he would not be contacting her again.
An email from Rangi Ruru's Board of Governors said that in March 2019, the school became aware of allegations of “serious misconduct”. Photo / Christchurch Star
In March 2019, concerns were forwarded from Christ’s College to Rangi Ruru.
On March 19, a meeting was held with Taurapa. During the meeting he denied ever meeting Dray outside of school, but said he had dropped her off after 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 to police, who notified the Ministry of Education (MoE).
Taurapa in his initial response 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 did not seek name suppression, Christ’s College and Rangi Ruru did.
A spokesperson for Rangi Ruru said both schools made arguments in favour of suppression 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.
Taurapa also previously worked for Stuff, which said he was hired in July last year as a full-time te reo Māori translator.
A spokesperson said he was “no longer an employee”.
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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