Whakatāne Intermediate School teacher left students alone at bus stop in the dark, later forced some to strip to underwear

A Whakatāne teacher has been censured for serious misconduct after forcing students at a school camp to strip to their underwear and stand with their noses against a tree.

They were among a group of Whakatāne Intermediate students who had earlier been driven crying to an unknown place at night and left alone to walk back to the camp, with some getting lost in the dark for hours.

A written decision of the NZ Teachers’ Council Disciplinary Tribunal revealed that Ngamihi Moses had been a fully registered teacher since November 2002.

She started at Whakatāne Intermediate School in June 2018 and had no prior misconduct incidents.

In November 2019, Moses and two classes from the school attended a four-day camp at Tokikapu Marae in the Waitomo area.

On the last night, some students misbehaved and adults at the camp decided to have the six, aged 11 and 12, pack their bags and get in the school van.

One of the children started to cry and the camp leader told parent helpers Moses was going to do a “tough love thing” with the students.

Moses drove them to an unfamiliar location in Ōtorohanga, with the idea of giving the students a “fright”, the decision said.

She dropped them at a bus stop and told them to walk back to Whakatāne – a two-and-a-half-hour drive away – or back to the school camp 10KM away, then drove off.

Three students began walking back to the camp and the rest tried to head for Whakatāne.

Twenty minutes later Moses caught up with the first students and asked them where the others were, then left them alone and drove off to find the missing trio.

When she failed to find them, she drove back to pick up the first three students and unsuccessfully searched again before calling the police for help.

The three missing students were not found until after midnight when a parent helper helped locate them and took them back to Moses.

While she was talking to the police, the three missing children were made to stand with their noses toward a shop window.

Moses then drove all six children back to camp and only allowed the children who tried to walk back to camp to go to sleep.

The other students were ordered to strip down to their underwear and stand with their noses again a tree until they apologised for their behaviour.

When two students showed “sufficient remorse” in Moses’ opinion, they were allowed to return to bed, while the third student was made to stand there for another 20 minutes until he showed remorse.

The next morning, Moses took those three children home, advised their families and apologised.

The school decided Moses should write a formal apology to each whānau and receive a warning, and the principal informed the Teachers’ Council. Moses faced a complaint of serious misconduct and she accepted that her behaviour met that threshold.

The tribunal agreed, saying Moses’ conduct “reflected adversely on her fitness to be a teacher”.

“Leaving intermediate-age children alone, at night, in an unfamiliar area, on two separate occasions, is entirely inconsistent with a child’s wellbeing,” tribunal deputy chairman Sam Wimsett said.

“It was dangerous. Making them lean against a tree in their underwear and a T-shirt, after the previous events, including having to involve the police, was also completely at odds with the well-being of the children…

“They certainly could have led to physical harm. It is good fortune they did not.”

The tribunal censured Moses after taking into account her expression of remorse, apologies to the students’ parents, and her attendance at a professional development course.

Moses was also ordered to notify any current or prospective teaching employer of her misconduct for a period of two years.

She also has to complete a Zones of Regulation course and be mentored for a period of 12 months.

The names of the students’ were suppressed but the tribunal rejected a request for Moses’ and the school’s identity to be withheld from publication in the judgment.

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