Education

Police, MP called in over Auckland school bullying

A dispute over alleged bullying of a young child at an Auckland school has escalated, with police and a senior National Party MP being called in. Laura Walters reports.

Hobsonville School is caught in an ongoing dispute with an influential businessman and community figure, who called police and senior National MP Paula Bennett over the alleged bullying of his five-year-old son.

The boy's father, whom Newsroom has decided not to name in order to protect his child’s identity, entered the school’s junior classroom before school started on September 23, where he confronted those connected to the alleged bullying.

Multiple people who spoke to Newsroom said the man was “aggressive” and came in “guns blazing”, speaking directly to the five-year-old involved, which upset him and created a stressful environment for students and the teacher.

The parent has disputed these facts, saying he never spoke directly to the child. He also said allegations he had made the child cry were false.

The man simultaneously called police to the school on that day.

This was the first time the school was made aware of any allegations of bullying towards the man’s child .

The parent told Newsroom the school also called police after he arrived, but the police officers he called, and knew through community connections, were of a higher rank, and were able to launch an investigation into the allegations.

Meanwhile, the parent had also involved his local councillor and his electorate MP, Paula Bennett.

He said he felt the school was trying to bully him, and “cover up” multiple bullying incidents, so he called on his local connections.

“I know people too,” he said.

Newsroom understands Bennett’s office put in a call to the Ministry of Education in relation to the issue at the school.

However, Bennett said she’d had no ongoing involvement in the case.

She received an initial call from the man, who she knew as a constituent, but said she believed the correct authorities were dealing with the case and left it there.

Ministry of Education deputy secretary of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said the ministry was contacted by the school about the incident the day it occurred, and have been providing advice and support to the school.

Now the threat of legal action is hanging over this case, with the school sending the man a formal notification regarding his actions on September 23, when he entered the school and the junior classroom.

Hobsonville School board of trustees chair Mark Markinova said the welfare of students and staff was of the utmost importance.

“We teach our children to have respect for others and work to create a safe environment where students can thrive. We also expect the same levels of respect from our wider school community and take action where we believe that actions of our wider school community puts the wellbeing of our students or staff at risk.”

The general comment from the school covered when and why a formal notification would be made to a parent regarding their behaviour.

In this case, the notification addressed what the school believed to be acceptable behaviour by parents, and the correct way to raise any concerns.

The man is now considering legal action against the school, saying the allegations in the formal letter from the school - including that he made a five-year-old student cry and caused the teacher distress - were unfounded.

The bullying allegations

The parent said his five-year-old son had been bullied since his first week of school.

The alleged behaviour included other children chasing him, shoving him, pushing his bike in the mud, kissing him, and licking him on the ear.

The man said this alleged behaviour was carried out by one five-year-old and two older children, and continued for three terms.

The parent told Newsroom he saw no point in going to the school when he found out about the alleged behaviour, as it did not have a bullying policy and procedure.

Newsroom has seen and read the school's bullying, harassment and child protection policies, which appear to be standard for a New Zealand school, and available online to members of the school’s community.

On the day of the incident, the man asked to see the school’s bullying policy and procedure but said what the principal and board chair produced was not satisfactory.

The meeting between the man, his wife, the principal and the board chair lasted the better part of the day, with the man insisting police be present for all conversations.

Markinova said the man was within his rights to call the police, however, this police complaint was the first the school had heard of the issues, which was not the usual process for these types of issues.

Police carried out an investigation, and interviewed the children involved.

The school was later advised: “Police did not identify any concerns. Investigation into this matter is now closed.”

However, the parent does not see this as the end of the matter, and believes there is a wider bullying issue at the school.

He stands by his stance that there was no policy or procedure that adequately addressed bullying, and said the environment created at the school was not safe and healthy.

The school disputes this.

The parent cited recent reports from the Children’s Commissioner and the Education Review Office (ERO) regarding New Zealand’s school bullying issues, which were some of the worst in the OECD.

ERO said about a third of students spoken to for their report had been bullied at their current school, while half indicated they had observed bullying at their school.

Most schools had bullying policies and procedures, and students had learned response strategies, but the strategies did not always lead to a permanent resolution of the problem.

The parent has also laid a complaint with ERO, which told him it was not the role of the office to address individual complaints, and explained the expected process. However, the office had placed his email on Hobsonville School’s file.

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