Ministry of Education probes rehire of teacher aide after ‘racist and discriminatory’ posts

The Ministry of Education is probing the rehire of a special needs teacher aide whose employment ended shortly after being suspended for racist and discriminatory social media posts.

The Northland woman made the posts on Instagram and Twitter in November last year, including a photo of her face painted black with the text “DIY Blackface”, comments about wanting to have sex with the kids and calling people retarded.

The school’s principal told the Herald “immediate and appropriate” action was taken but for legal reasons could not comment on how the case had been handled, if she had been stood down and whether she was still employed by the school.

The Ministry of Education later confirmed that the teacher aide was suspended and her employment contract ended. At the time the ministry was confident the school had taken the appropriate steps.

“Today, we discovered the school has reemployed this person and we will be following up with the board of trustees at the earliest opportunity to understand their reasons for doing this and their employment processes,” said Katrina Casey, ministry deputy secretary sector enablement and support.

Casey said a concerned parent made the ministry aware of the posts in November last year.

“We contacted the school and advised the right course of action was to refer the matter to police and seek advice from theNew Zealand School Trustees Association.”

Okaihau College principal Thomas Davison said the association and the ministry were contacted for advice to ensure a robust process was followed.

“We are confident that this will not be repeated,” Davison said.

The Herald then asked Davison if he could clarify whether any disciplinary action was taken, whether the teacher aide had been stood down while the investigation was being conducted and if she was still employed by the college.

He said: “I refer you back to our original statement, which is all I can legally share.”

The teacher aide was approached for comment via Davison but did not respond.

“Due to privacy, I cannot share [her] contact details with you but I have told her of your desire to contact,” Davison said.

School records show the teacher aide started work at Okaihau College in February 2020.

In November she tweeted: “Anyone can do anything, why are you all so f**cking retarded”.

“I’m quietly going insane and I don’t know what to do about it. I want drugs, alcohol and sex to make me not think about it. But it’s Tuesday so I guess I’ll have to have a cryw*** about it.”

“I work at a highschool and I could f**k kids. There’s some pretty nice looking boys.”

Hundreds of people expressed outrage on social media at the posts and some shared screenshots of them to warn others. Those posts have since been removed.

Some social media users claimed the school hadn’t investigated robustly enough.

One woman described the posts as “disgusting and disrespectful” to the students she worked with.

IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant said there was no place for any kind of discriminatory or hate language within New Zealand’s education system.

“Any education professional, whether they are a teacher aide, principal or teacher, should be modelling ethical attitudes towards children at all times. That is their responsibility.”

Grant said this case illustrated issues around accountability and transparency in the education system.

“Having confidence is one thing but actually being able to say with absolute authority that we will ensure that all expectations around professional standard of behaviours and attitudes are taken seriously is another.”

A Human Rights Commission spokesperson said there was an expectation that people working with children displayed role model inclusive attitudes that gave strong foundations for children’s well-being, life-long learning, and development.

“New Zealanders should be able to engage online free of discrimination, bullying, and harassment. Netsafe is mandated to receive complaints under the Harmful Digital Communications Act. We would encourage people to report objectionable social media posts with Netsafe.”

The spokesperson said it would be inappropriate for the Human Rights Commission to comment about an employer and employee-related code of conduct incident.

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