Teachers (Or: No Names Please)

One of the more obvious areas that will attract the attention of the royal commission is that of schools. In Australia, schools are run by the State governments or by private institutions, mainly churches. Government schools are open to much greater scrutiny than private schools, and therein lies most of the problems associated with the latter.

Very few incidents have been recorded in public schools relative to private schools.

A search of  recent cases yields a few cases in private schools. For example, This month a former music teacher at Christchurch Grammar School in Claremont was convicted by a jury of abusing a student in the 1980’s. Patrician Brother, Thomas Grealy, was convicted in 1997 and spent 4 years in jail from his time as principal of a primary school at Granville in Western Sydney. Gerard Vincent Byrnes was sentenced to 10 years prison for offences between 2007 and 2008 at a catholic primary school while he was the school’s child protection officer.

When it comes to offenders in State schools, it can be difficult to come up with actual names. This sometimes applies to public school offenders but is greatly less frequent. For example, a 60-year old man who abused 5 nine-year old boys while teaching at a Perth primary school was sentenced to 5 years jail, and subsequently lost an appeal against the decision. Media reports did not name him.

When a 36- year old man was sentenced to 10 years jail for offences at a Perth school between 2008 and 2011 against boys between 6 and 9 years of age,  he was not named in media reports “for legal reasons.”

A computer teacher who was jailed for sexually abusing a female student had his name suppressed because it might identify the victim who is still a student at the school.

Many reports just refer to “a teacher.” A 69-year old former teacher in Western Australia, who assaulted a child numerous times between 1997 and 1998 was not named. Two teachers arrested by Strike Force Avia in Sydney have had their identities suppressed.

Governments can be as protective of their reputation as churches. The non-disclosure of names can lead to very serious problems of accountability and prevention of further abuse by offenders. The South Australian government learnt this  recently in the case of  Barry Douglas Wright who was convicted in July 2012 relating to offences while teaching at an Adelaide High School. He was already serving a short sentence for assaulting a student at another Adelaide high school in 2007.

After severe criticisms in the media that parents had not been warned about this person, the S.A. Education Minister finally named Wright but not the names of the two schools. This all has not been enough to satisfy parents and others and remains a hot issue in local Adelaide politics. The case will probably arise at the royal commission.

What it shows is that the reporting mechanisms of government need as much attention as do those of the churches. Further, a second look should be taken at what material, including names of offenders and schools, can be released in the public interest.

TOMORROW : Teaching priests

That’s all I can say

Lewis Blayse (né Lewin Blazevich)


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