Punishment for Feilding daycare teacher who locked kids in rooms, smacked them 'doesn't give the children justice'

Former staff and parents believe punishment for the teacher doesn't give the children justice.
Former staff and parents believe punishment for the teacher doesn't give the children justice. Photo credit: RNZ

Story by RNZ

Former staff and parents are disappointed with the penalty for a Feilding early childhood teacher who locked children in rooms, smacked them and fed them out-of-date food.

Pitter Patter Education Centre owner Pauline Murphy has been censured and had her teaching registration cancelled] . The Teachers' Disciplinary Tribunal found her guilty of serious misconduct and multiple breaches of the teachers Code of Professional Responsibility. She has to pay costs of nearly $40,000.

Murphy's behaviour was revealed in December 2020 when parents and former teachers detailed their own interactions and experiences.

Read more: Feilding teacher underfed children, locked them in sleep room as punishment

One parent, who was a witness at the hearing, said the punishment would have no impact on Murphy.

"She's retired - so having her teaching registration removed doesn't make much of a difference. The amount of money Pauline has to pay doesn't give the children or their whānau justice or faith in the system, because what really was the outcome for them?'

"It cannot even begin to cover the stress and trauma it has caused so many children/people in different ways.

A former teacher said Murphy's punishment "did not fit the crime".

"I'm pleased that Pauline will never teach again, but she retired anyway, so losing her registration means nothing to her."

She said former staff and parents from the centre "went through hell time and again, and having to re-live it will have a lasting effect."

"The damage she inflicted on children was worth more than $39k"

The centre was forced to close in 2021 after reports from former parents and teachers prompted a Ministry of Education investigation finding 33 breaches.

The Disciplinary Tribunal found that the misconduct stretched over more than a decade between 2010 and April 2021.

It spoke to 11 witnesses about the allegation and incidents, all of which Murphy denied.

A witness told the hearing Murphy used the sleep room as a way to seclude children and punish them for misbehaving.

A former teacher said: "If it was morning tea time during the time they were put in there, they would not be allowed to eat."

"Children would be left in the sleep room for periods of an hour, sometimes longer... children would often be distressed and crying and she could hear banging from inside the room when a child was put in there for punishment," said another witness.

The tribunal said it had "no hesitancy concluding the conduct amounts to serious misconduct".

It noted the use of a sleep room for seclusion purposes was against the law and regulations and would likely have impacts on a child's psychological and mental well-being.

Murphy was also found to have encouraged both staff and parents to give their child "a good smack on the hand".

It was also noted on multiple occasions that Murphy was found to have forced open children's mouths open to scoop out food she considered to be 'junk food', like chips or pancakes, with her fingers.

Murphy's behaviour was not just towards the children at the early childhood centre, but also the teachers.

Former staff told the tribunal Pauline Murphy used to yell or shout at other teachers, often belittling them or demeaning comments towards them calling them "useless"," stupid", "lazy" and threatening their jobs.

In one instance she told a staff member eating KFC on her break, she was "too fat to be eating that kind of food".

Others were made to scrub the floor on their hands and knees or pick weeds from between the concrete as a form of punishment - of which staff described as demeaning and "embarrassing".

Murphy told the hearing she was "the victim of a witch hunt by a small number of disgruntled employees and parents."

The tribunal rejected that.

All but two charges against her were upheld.