Lane Nichols at Dom Post reports:
Hutt Valley High School pupils were subjected to torture, extreme violence and sexual abuse, but school authorities failed to protect victims, alert parents or report numerous attacks to police.
A long-awaited Ombudsmen’s Office report reveals chilling details of systemic violence at the school, intimidation and abuse. It also identifies a history of failing to punish culprits or acknowledge the seriousness of their crimes.
A gang of six teens terrorised classmates in late 2007, chasing younger boys around the school, dragging them to the ground to remove their pants then violating them with a screwdriver, scissors, branches, pens, pencils and drills.
And what did the school do? Cover it up!
When the offending was identified, the 1700-pupil co-ed state school did not alert victims’ parents, police or Child, Youth and Family. It instead chose to stand down the culprits for a few days.
Incensed parents eventually learned of the attacks and complained to the Human Rights Commission and Ombudsmen’s Office.
One of the nine victims had holes ripped in his trousers during an assault. Another was kicked in the face when he refused to kiss his attackers’ shoes after being sexually violated.
The decile 8 school played down the attacks, saying, “It wasn’t an assault where somebody had blood spilt” and describing the incidents as “minor”.
The school did not play down the attacks. Some individuals did. I don’t know whether it was the school principal, the board chair, or someone else – but they should be named and shamed.
When quizzed later by Ombudsman David McGee about the attacks, school management said an investigating police officer was on a “crusade” and “out to make a name for himself”.
Who are these school management people? Do they still work there?
School bullying is not minor and trivial. It causes kids to kill themselves. For many kids it turns what should be five of the best years of their lives into an era of terror and fear.
Tabling his report in Parliament yesterday, Mr McGee described the attacks as “a pattern of repeated, premeditated, systematic assaults”. He slated the school’s response, inadequate discipline policies and failure to implement Education Ministry child abuse policies.
“Even disregarding the most serious allegations of direct penetrative assault, the systematic pack assaults with sharp objects and surrounding threats and intimidation … would seem to have justified, at a minimum, suspension of the perpetrators.”
Antisocial children were retained in the school and serious violence and sexual assaults went unreported to government agencies. The school also took it upon itself to interpret the results of a victim’s medical examination in favour of his perpetrators.
What was wrong with the school management that they acted in such a way?
According to a letter from another victim’s parent to the Education Ministry, no punishment was imposed for an earlier 2007 incident when a group of pupils held another boy down with a chain around his neck and tried burning him with a lighter.
A third pupil was pushed down stairs and kicked in the head and chest until unconscious in 2004.
This sort of behaviour should result in court action, not a school cover up.
Recently appointed Hutt Valley High School principal Ross Sinclair issued a full apology yesterday for the school’s actions. The school accepted it had managed the assaults poorly and made serious mistakes.
Mr Sinclair is new so can’t be held accountable. But he can clean out any of his senior management who were part of this reign of effective condoning of bullying and violence.
And likewise you have to wonder where was the board of trustees during this? They are meant to be the champion of parents – not force them to go to the Ombudsman. I wonder if a Commissioner should have been appointed?