Auckland principal defends photo of her checking toilet cubicle to see if students vaping

Barker said she was checking the number of feet in the cubicle.
Barker said she was checking the number of feet in the cubicle. Photo credit: Getty/Supplied

The principal of an Auckland high school has defended her actions after a photo of her looking under a toilet door circulated on social media.

Fiona Barker, principal of Green Bay High School, responded to the image in a letter to parents sent earlier this week, in which she said she was checking to see if students were vaping in the cubicle. 

"You may be aware that a photo is circulating on social media of me monitoring the situation in some girls' toilets in the school recently," Barker said in the letter. 

"Like many things on social media, photos can often provide a one-sided version of what is happening at the time."

Barker shared the letter with Newshub when approached for comment about the photo.

"We take our duties very seriously around monitoring what is happening at our school in order to be assured it is a healthy and safe environment for our students and staff," she said.

"In this case I was responding to concerns that there were two students in the same cubicle potentially vaping. The photo shows me checking from a distance, the number of feet in the cubicle.

"As vaping products are R18 only, potentially highly addictive, and prohibited at schools, it is important that we respond to these situations promptly and strongly."

She said student safety and wellbeing was the "greatest priority" for the school.

"It is also important to note that we would never jeopardise someone's privacy and dignity in the toilets," she added.

Not everyone was convinced by Barker's explanation though, with one person saying the incident was an "invasion of privacy". 

"We can't even do our business without being scared of being spied on by our principal," someone claiming to be a student said in an email to Newshub.

"It is very concerning and many people don't feel comfortable using the toilets any more. It's a total invasion of privacy, a grown woman looking at children underneath bathroom stalls."

Barker is not the first principal to express concern at an increase of vaping among students, with Auckland Grammar School's principal previously calling vaping in schools an "epidemic".

According to the Ministry of Health's 2019/20 NZ Health Survey, nearly 40 percent of youths aged 15-17 have tried an e-cigarette at least once, while 2.3 percent of people in that age group were defined as daily users.

New legislation came into effect late last year making it illegal to sell vapes to people aged under 18.