Victoria’s Department of Education and Training has unsuccessfully appealed against a Disciplinary Appeals Board decision to reinstate a high school teacher who tampered with students’ academic results.
The experienced science and maths teacher was dismissed after it was discovered that his login details had been used to downgrade the academic results of 16 students.
The teacher denied culpability and appealed against his termination.
While the teacher could not explain how another person could have used his login details to access the school’s computer system, the Disciplinary Appeals Board found that he was “a teacher with integrity and principles”.
The board noted that the teacher “had not engaged in any prior conduct similar in nature” and decided that he should be reinstated with a reprimand, demotion and a $21,000 per year pay cut.
In appealing against the reinstatement, the Department of Education submitted the board’s decision lacked “an intelligible justification”, as the teacher “had denied his engagement in the misconduct and had refused to take responsibility for or explain his conduct”, thus failing “to recognise the gravity and impropriety of his conduct”.
The department contended that the teacher “had engaged in misconduct that went to the heart of his professional obligations” and the decision to reinstate him “was unreasonable and infected by jurisdictional error”.
All of the students whose results the teacher downgraded were taught by other teachers, except for two who he taught in conjunction with another teacher.
The Department of Education argued that the teacher had a motive to target two of the affected students, as their parents had made complaints against him, as well as at least two of the three teachers whose students were affected.
These teachers, with the principal, had put pressure on the teacher to improve his performance and curriculum in an effort to lift the school’s academic standards.
Judge says board ‘exercised discretion’
In making her decision against the Department of Education’s appeal, Victorian Supreme Court Associate Judge Mary-Jane Ierodiaconou found it “appropriate to give weight to the board’s experience and expertise” in deciding that the termination of the teacher’s employment was “excessive”.
She rejected the department’s submission that the teacher “did not express contrition and denied his misconduct” and that “there was no evidence to justify the reinstatement of [the teacher’s] employment”.
“In deciding to reinstate [the teacher’s] employment, the board weighed up several relevant considerations, including his character, his approach to student assessment and the consequences of his conduct on the school, which necessarily includes the student body,” Associate Judge Ierodiaconou said.
“The board made findings of fact with respect to each of these matters and reached what was in all the circumstances a reasonable conclusion.
“The weight given to each piece of evidence was wholly a matter for the board, having regard to the legislative framework within which it was operating.
“It is not for this court in a judicial review proceeding to interfere with the exercise of that discretion.”
In dismissing the Department of Education’s application for judicial review, Associate Judge Ierodiaconou also noted that although the board had reinstated the teacher, “the further actions it took were serious, namely, to reprimand [the teacher] and to reduce his classification”.