How social media is playing role in inappropriate teacher-student relationships following Christchurch scandal

The Teaching Council says social media can be blurring the lines between teacher-student relationships following the latest incident of inappropriate sexual behaviour at a Christchurch school.

Appearing on AM, Teaching Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin said social media is playing a more frequent role in cases where teachers are involved in serious misconduct. 

Earlier this week, it was revealed a teacher at a Christchurch private school had a sexual relationship with a 16-year-old student that stemmed from social media.

The teacher, Taurapa, formerly known as Connor Taurapa Matthews, was an ex-teacher at Rangi Ruru and a former live-in boarding house tutor at Christ's College, a private school for boys. 

A Teachers Disciplinary Tribunal decision found he had an "inappropriate relationship" with a year 12 Rangi Ruru student which started after a Snapchat group was formed among himself and a cohort of students.

Taurapa, who was 20 at the time, began messaging the young girl privately and on her 16th birthday, he gave her a writing journal and a note wishing her a happy birthday. Inside the card was a poem titled "Words of Love".

From then on, the messages between the pair turned sexual and the relationship eventually became physical.

At school, the pair would meet in a room with no security cameras to kiss and Taurapa would grope the girl, while outside of school they would exchange naked photos and videos.

Taurapa would also drive the girl home from school and one day he took her to a secluded spot where she performed oral sex on him, despite not wanting to. He also performed a sex act on her.

In 2019, it all came to an end when staff at another school were alerted to his behaviour and an investigation was sparked and Taurapa was stood down.

Taurapa had also had a non-physical inappropriate relationship with another student a month earlier.

Taurapa was charged with serious misconduct and is no longer a teacher.

Taurapa was an ex-teacher at Rangi Ruru Girls' School.
Taurapa was an ex-teacher at Rangi Ruru Girls' School. Photo credit: Google Maps

The case has raised questions over the use of social media between students and teachers.

Hoskin said social media is increasingly playing a role in these types of cases.

"Many of these cases end up following a pastoral care start, so the intent is good and then, in these social media spaces of course, it just becomes very blurred and few teachers, very few teachers, find that they end up crossing that professional boundary," she said.

Hoskin said social media is being used as a tool for teaching and collaborative working groups but when it crosses the line is often if a teacher talks to the student outside of school time or about things outside of school matters.

"Of course, social media is an environment that we are all learning to find the appropriate behaviour but it is very clear to teachers the expected behaviour," Hoskin said.

At Christ College, an independent review of the school’s recruitment and retention practices is underway by anti-abuse organisation Child Matters New Zealand, Stuff reported.

It comes in light of Taurapa's misconduct and the inappropriate behaviour of elite sports trainer Andrew Maclennan. Maclennan was a trainer with some of New Zealand's top sports athletes and a former teacher at Rangi Ruru Girls' School and Christ’s College.

Last month, a court judgement found Maclennan had a secret sexual relationship with a Year 13 student who he first met when she was 15, back in 2008.