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Former principal 's behaviour 'despicable' - tribunal

Newshub logoNewshub 14/08/2019 James Fyfe
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The behaviour of a former principal of a school in Rotorua has been described as "despicable" by a disciplinary tribunal.

Uenuku Fairhall had his teaching registration cancelled and has been censured following a school trip to Mexico he went on with students from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori o Te Koutu school. 

The decision to take disciplinary action against Fairhall was revealed in a decision released today by the Teaching Council's Disciplinary Tribunal Council.

Fairhall slept naked in the same bed as a student while on the school trip, told a student to remove his underwear and washed the student's back, then "swept away [the student's] hands from covering his bottom", and engaged in sexualised talk to a group of students, the tribunal found.

He also entered into a bathroom area while it was being used by a student and was partially clothed in front of students.

The trip took place in 2017. Because of budgeting reasons, students were separated into groups of six for accommodation purposes, with most locations having three double beds per group, with each bed to be shared by two students.

While Fairhall admitted to sleeping naked in a bed with a student, he told the council he took his clothes off due to insomnia. 

"As I have gotten older I have more difficulty sleeping," he told the tribunal. "At home, I don't wear pyjamas and find them too hot and restrictive. After two nights of very little sleep, I was getting run down. I discreetly removed my underwear in bed so I could get to sleep. I had no idea that [the student] was aware of this. I need to state that it was not for nefarious reasons it was just the need for sleep."

The next day at breakfast Fairhall said, in front of the other students, that the student had put his leg over the top his genitals in his sleep and that he [Fairhall] had an erection at the time. Fairhall then joked he had "morning wood".

The student eventually told his mother, via Facebook, about the fact Fairhall was sharing a bed naked with him, and she was furious, the report said.

According to the tribunal, the school was notified on February 23 by a concerned parent after the bathroom incident. 

Fairhall was then told of the concern by the school's acting principal and informed of various measures he had to adhere to. 

As part of this, he was instructed that no students should share a bed with staff.

On March 13 Fairhall was informed by the school that a verbal complaint had been laid by two parents. Following this, a hui was held by the school and Fairhall was sent another message emphasising once again that there should be no sharing of beds between staff and students, and all students should be allowed to bathe in privacy. 

Another parent then contacted police regarding the complaints and on March 17 the school made the decision to cancel the rest of the trip.

A police investigation ended with no charges being laid, but Fairhall was investigated by the school's Complaints Assessment Committee (CAC), which referred the case to the disciplinary tribunal. 

The tribunal concluded Fairhall's behaviour was "despicable" and met the test for serious misconduct.

Fairhall agreed with the submissions of the CAC but noted that his conduct should be viewed "in light of his sleep deprivation".

He resigned as principal of the school in April 2017.

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