A school that hired a disgraced former teacher while he was under investigation by the teaching council has called for an urgent meeting with families to discuss their employment processes.
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 “serious misconduct” was made public on Monday after a suppression order lapsed. The misconduct included a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student, Helena Dray, as well as “inappropriate messaging” with another girl.
A mandatory report was received by the Teaching Council in September 2019 regarding concerns about Taurapa. He had resigned from his role at Rangi Ruru five months earlier saying his relationship with the school had become “untenable”.
Taurapa went on to work at two other schools, Hornby High, and then Te Kura Kaupapa Māori Te Whānau Tahi, a Māori immersion school. He was later elected to the school’s board of trustees.
Te Kura Kaupapa Maori O Te Whanau Tahi school in Christchurch. Photo / George Heard.
On Saturday, Te Whānau Tahi posted a statement on its website.
“We do not condone grooming and any abuse of power over those in your charge,” the statement began.
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The school said it was through the media they were informed of the details of the investigation and the “nature and severity of what happened.
“We are shocked and devastated by these events. We have taken time to examine our employment process around this.”
The statement said the school was informed there was a ‘technical investigation” under way.
However, they claimed they were “not told of the details of that investigation or that it was at the level of seriousness not to employ the kaiako.”
Taurapa declined to make any comment. Photo / George Heard
“At no point was notification given to us that this kaiako should not be teaching in our classrooms. We understand that the Teachers’ Council are now examining their processes around this type of notification and certainly had we had that information to hand we would not have progressed with the employment of this kaiako.
“This is not a time to pass blame. This is a time for all kura (private and public) to work with the Teachers’ Council and the Ministry to ensure that any predatory accusations are investigated with haste.”
The school has also given notice of a “special whānau hui” to be held on Tuesday, for the Board and principal can update whānau on “the recent media articles and Teachers’ Council investigations about Taurapa.
“We know that there has been a lot of interest and kōrero amongst the whānau about the articles and findings of the investigation and are keen to ensure that you all have the opportunity to ask questions about our own employment processes within the kura.”
The Teaching Council told the Herald Te Whānau Tahi was “fully informed”.
“The Council was contacted by Te Whānau Tahi during their recruitment process in November 2019 and informed the Council that Taurapa had fully disclosed the investigation to them. Te Whānau Tahi have subsequently been closely involved throughout every step of the process.”
The Council said the sexual nature of Taurapa’s relationship with Dray was not known until January 2023.
“However, it was understood that the behaviour of the teacher was serious enough to consider cancellation at the Complaints Assessment Committee stage.
“Our decision at the time was not to require an Undertaking Not to Teach (UNTT), a voluntary agreement that prevents a teacher under investigation from teaching until the matter is settled. In hindsight, we can see it would have been appropriate. If the case was to come to us today, we would indeed ask for an UNTT.”
Helena Dray waived her name suppression after years of stigma and victim blaming. Photo / Instagram
The Council confirmed no other conduct matters had been brought to its attention in relation to Taurapa.
On Friday, following a series of questions from the Herald, Education Minister Jan Tinetti said with consideration for the “safety of our students”, she had asked to meet with the Teaching Council to discuss “whether there are any changes needed to the investigation processes for teachers under investigation for misconduct”.
In response, the Council said it “continually strives to improve its processes.”
The Council had recently undertaken a “lengthy consultation” process to make changes to the Teaching Council Rules which will come into effect on July 29.
“Our upcoming meeting with the minister is another such opportunity to review and identify areas in our processes that may need further attention. During the review of the rules, one of the most complex matters we considered was what information can be shared and with whom, to ensure the safety of learners.”
Last week, 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.
Stuff hired Taurapa in July last year as a full-time te reo Māori translator. Photo / George Heard
“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.”
On Friday, the Herald approached Taurapa as he got out of his black 2022 Tesla Model 3 in Cheviot. Asked for comment, Taurapa was silent and got back in his car and drove off.
Taurapa also previously worked for Stuff, which said he was hired in July last year as a full-time te reo Māori translator.
On Monday, the Herald sent a series of questions to Stuff about his employment.
“We aren’t able to comment on specific details of past or present employee matters but we can say that Stuff has a comprehensive recruitment process,” Chief people officer Annamarie Jamieson said.
“When new information relating to any employee comes to light, regardless of timing, we take swift and appropriate action.”
‘He was aware of my vulnerability’
In a statement to the Herald, Dray said she asked the tribunal to waive her name suppression so she could shed light on the teacher that targeted her while she was his student in 2018.
“It took years for me to come forward due to the stigma and victim blaming that commonly surrounds these cases,” she said.
“He was aware of my vulnerability at the time. I believe his actions towards me were shameful and arrogant, and there should be no place for that in Aotearoa.”
Up until the tribunal’s decision was released, Taurapa had publicly enjoyed a successful career well within the media eye, including a podcast and translator role with Stuff, appearing in several news stories including one in Capital Mag where he claims to have worked for the government, the New Zealand Translation Center, 2020 General Election and Air New Zealand.
“It was difficult seeing Taurapa continue his career, especially in the media, although I held little doubt he would be let go from certain positions once this case was made public,” Dray said.
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.
“I have been in therapy for years now due to these events and only recently came to the understanding that I hold no blame for what happened to me,” Dray said.
When Taurapa’s actions hit the headlines on Monday, Dray said it was the first time the school had contacted her personally about the ordeal.
“I felt a distinct lack of concern for my wellbeing from the school,” Dray said.
When the tribunal decision was released, Taurapa was finally held accountable for his actions against Dray.
“I chose to waive name suppression as I have a name and I am a person. I fully respect that other victims have reasons for wanting to remain anonymous, and I want to emphasise that these reasons are completely valid and understandable, especially due to the stigma that commonly surrounds situations like this.
“For me personally, to be anonymous means to contribute to the narrative that victims’ actions are in some way shameful or contributory to their abuse. This is untrue, and harmful to victims, past, present, and future.
“If there is no name on the other end of these cases, it makes it harder to comprehend the impact these events have and allows perpetrators a level of detachment from the effects of their actions, giving them a continued unjust power over victims,” Dray said.
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