Young students 'distraught' after teacher made them slap his hand till it hurt

Dubby Henry, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Nov 2021, 4:39PM
(File photo / Green Chameleon, Unsplash)
(File photo / Green Chameleon, Unsplash)

Young students 'distraught' after teacher made them slap his hand till it hurt

Dubby Henry, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 22 Nov 2021, 4:39PM

A primary school teacher who made two young students lick their palms then slap his hand till it hurt has been censured for serious misconduct but is still allowed to teach. 

Andrew Wihapi, who goes by Anaru Wihapi, also admitted embarrassing a student by questioning his honesty in front of his peers. 

The hand-slapping incidents left one boy distraught and the other in tears and led Rotorua Primary School's principal to file a mandatory report to the Teaching Council against Wihapi. 

The details of the case can now be published after the Teacher's Disciplinary Tribunal made its September 29 finding public. All three students' names are permanently suppressed. 

In the first handslapping incident, a "defiant" student was sent to Wihapi's classroom by another teacher. He told Wihapi he had been hitting another student. 

Wihapi asked him why, but the boy shrugged his shoulders. The teacher then made the boy "lick his own hand to make it wet and then slap Mr Wihapi's hand continuously", according to the tribunal's finding. 

"Mr Wihapi stopped when he saw that the slapping was starting to hurt [the student]. He explained ... that 'this is what it feels like when you hit someone often' and spoke to him about being nice to other children and showing respect to them." 

The student was distraught and noticeably scared of Wihapi following the incident, his teacher said. 

The next day a teacher asked Wihapi to talk to a "disruptive" student about his behaviour in class. 

On arrival, the student was crying, angry and upset. When he would not immediately explain what had happened, "Mr Wihapi became impatient and snapped at [the boy] to speak "NOW". 

"[The student] got a fright, he screamed, put his hands over his ears and began to cry. [He] still did not respond to Mr Wihapi." 

Wihapi then told the boy, "We are going to play a game", telling him to lick his own hand and then repeatedly slap Wihapi's hand. 

The boy then admitted to Wihapi he had disobeyed his teacher and they discussed the importance of listening to instructions. 

On his return the boy's teacher noted he was visibly upset, and got him to do breathing exercises to calm down. 

The previous week Wihapi had also accused a child of not being honest and failing to hand in their cellphone at the school office, in front of some 130 students. 

Wihapi admitted the conduct and accepted that his behaviour fell short of what was expected from a teacher. 

In its September 29 decision the disciplinary tribunal said the hand-slapping and raised voice would have been "confusing, scary and intimidating". 

Most parents would strongly object to Wihapi's "punitive" behavioural management approach, which involved encouraging the use of unjustified or unreasonable physical force. 

A submission on Wihapi's behalf also downplayed the cellphone incident as a "gaffe" but the tribunal said it amounted to misconduct and he could have acted in a way that did not humiliate the child. A reflective statement Wihapi provided to the tribunal called the incident a "huge mistake" and a "stupid thing to do". 

It also was argued he had been under stress due to the loss of his sister and mother the previous year and that he had heart-related health issues. 

Wihapi had told Rotorua Primary's principal he was ashamed of his actions and "wished to convey his apologies to each student, their teacher and their whānau". 

His statement to the tribunal talked about taking a more holistic approach to behavioural management and referred to Sir Mason Durie's Māori wellbeing model, "Te Whare Tapa Whā". 

But the tribunal said Wihapi "appeared to be hiding his demonstrated preparedness to incite violence and inflict punishment on young tamariki, behind a Māori lens". 

"Tribunal member Ms Kiri Turketo identified that because Mr Wihapi is Māori, whakapapa dictates that children are untouchable," its finding said. 

"Technically therefore, Mr Wihapi's conduct in respect of those students obliterated what it means to be Māori." 

The tribunal said there was no evidence Wihapi had met with the students or whānau to say sorry, which would show a true understanding of mātauranga and tikanga Māori. 

Wihapi had worked at Rotorua Primary since 2006 and had a previously "flawless" record, according to a submission made on his behalf. 

The submission argued tamariki who misbehaved were often sent to Wihapi's classroom because he had "a high degree of skill" in behavioural management so he did not require mentoring. 

But the tribunal disagreed - requiring him to receive one year of mentoring to learn about appropriate behavioural management techniques. It censured him, put conditions on his teaching and ordered him to pay $4800 in costs. 

He sought permanent name suppression on medical grounds, which the tribunal declined. 

Wihapi renewed his practising certificate in September 2021 and continues to work at Rotorua Primary.