A former Mount Maunganui Intermediate School teacher has been found guilty of serious misconduct by the New Zealand Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal for inviting students to stay at her home and engaging in “unprofessional” Facebook communication with them.
Jane Sowerby, who taught Year 7 and 8 students in the school’s bilingual unit in 2013-14, allowed some of her students to stay the night at her home on various occasions, describing it as “the Maori way” says the tribunal, which heard the case in April 2017 but only released its decision this week.
Some of the students were known to Sowerby as whanau connections but none of the visits were mandated by the school and some of the stays occurred after she had been warned by the school not to have students stay at her home again.
Sowerby created a professional work-related Facebook account as “a useful way to communicate with parents”. She breached the school’s social media policy by adding a number of students as friends so they could see her posts and comments and she shared posts about her interactions with students on her Facebook page.
The school became aware that some students were inappropriately posting on her page and advised her they were concerned about the situation. As a result Sowerby removed most of the students as friends from her page.
However, while the school was looking into the matter she continued to use both her professional and personal Facebook pages to share photos of students and they were able to post comments about the school’s treatment of her.
The tribunal found the conduct could not be classified as an ‘inappropriate relationship’ as her interactions lacked the intensity or intimacy normally present in inappropriate relationships.
Rather it found Sowerby failed to maintain professional boundaries and her conduct had the potential to alienate other students.
The tribunal noted the Facebook posts were about Sowerby’s feelings and views and were a vehicle for her to garner affirmation and find support from her students and their whanau, rather than about her meeting the needs of the school community she was there to serve.
It ruled her conduct lowered the reputation and good standing of the teaching profession.
Sowerby was censured, ordered to complete a professional development course and ordered to advise any new employer of the decision for the next five years.