Dom Post Editorial on Hutt Valley High School

Dom Post Editorial:

The word “bullying” does not even get close to describing the reign of terror a gang of thugs imposed on their fellow pupils.

Serious sexual assault, extreme violence and brutal humiliation are more accurate terms for the pack attacks on nine tormented Year 9 boys over two weeks in late 2007.

The sickening details are laid out in a damning report by Ombudsman David McGee. One by one, the victims were hunted down and violated with objects including a drill bit, scissors, a craft knife, a plank of wood, a shoe, a cellphone and a screwdriver. According to police reports, victims screamed in pain during the attacks. One endured up to 10 such assaults. Another was kicked in the face when he refused to kiss his attackers’ shoes after they had sexually violated him.

The response of the school’s authorities to such systemic violence defies belief. Having failed to establish proper systems to prevent and detect such attacks in the first place, the school then failed to safeguard the well-being of the victims and ensure the complaints were dealt with properly. They did not inform the victims’ parents or alert police or Child, Youth and Family to what were plainly allegations of serious sexual offending.

Even worse, the acting principal at the time, Steve Chapman, and the then-chairwoman of the board of trustees, Susan Pilbrow, played down the seriousness of the assaults. Mr Chapman’s decision, backed by Ms Pilbrow, to stand down the six attackers for three to five days obviously failed to reflect the gravity of their offending or send a message that violence would not be tolerated. The school’s refusal to back down from a statement that it had acted “reasonably and responsibly” confirmed concerns that it had not acknowledged the seriousness of the attacks.

It was a failure of the most basic kind – to keep kids safe.

I wonder whether those in charge at the time are still involved at the school. Their website states Steve Chapman is the Associate Principal still. Ms Pilbrow does not appear to be on the Board of Trustees anymore.

UPDATE: NZ Herald reports Mr Chapman may be sacked by the Board. It is hard to see how he could continue in the job and believe the school is serious about ensuring this never happens again.

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