Legal and Ethical Contexts in my Digital Practice – (school)

The time is always right to do the right thingMartin Luther King

Being a teacher for a few years now, and having worked through a few ‘situations’ over this time, awareness of legal and ethical issues are things we as teachers are always mindful of.  Ensuring what we do is the right thing, is important and often on our minds. Professionally, it is something that we should always be mindful of.  Teaching is a stressful job and naturally teachers can become stressed from the responsibilities and expectations of  what we do and whom we are teaching.  We are always mindful of doing the right thing.  However, combine stress with anxiety, worry, and personal issues, while still trying to do the job, and things can quickly come undone.  Factor into this the use of devices, social media, accessibility online and all the nuances of this digital era and things can become interesting.  Now this is not to condone inappropriate and illegal online behaviour.  That is a very different matter.

A situation (one of several) occurred in my school with Mr J in my faculty.  He was also part of a second faculty.  He was employed in a fixed, one year position.  Joining him was his daughter in her first year of NCEA, year 11.  The family moved to the area from Hamilton, and his wife was able to continue her work travelling to Hamilton each week.  Mr J had a fairly busy family life with the children involved in sports activities and two at university.

Teachers in our school are not able to access files from other departments, however, anything on the shared drive, is accessible to teaching staff.  I believe this to be fairly standard practice in most schools.  Mr J obtained access to files since working in two departments.  At the end of term 1, Mr J accidentally spilled coffee on his computer which required checking by the school IT team.  For some reason, it was after this that Mr J was called into the Principal’s office to discuss a personal matter.  As HOD I had no idea of what was going on.  Mr J had been accused of inappropriate access to online files to advantage his daughter.  The school believed Mr J had purposely damaged the laptop.

I later learned that Mr J had downloaded tests and revision papers , from other subject areas and these had been placed on his computer in a folder with his daughter’s name on it.  The school decided to take further action, and asked Mr J was given leave as the matter was being investigated.  Mr J sought union help, but in discussions with the school, and even after the evidence of no wrong doing by Mr J, he took ‘stress’ leave until the end of term 2.  Mr J then decided he needed to move away from the school and resigned his position during term 3.  The school was to continue its investigation and was informed that a hearing would be scheduled in the near future.

Meanwhile, Mr J in term 4 of the same year (while on leave) applied for another teaching position out of Auckland and was successful. He had not informed his new school of the proceedings against him, but prior to the hearing (held in term 2 of this year), did inform the Principal of the matter.  The Principal was very understanding and supportive of Mr J’s situation.  By the end of term 2, Mr J had been cleared of all allegations of misconduct.  He was fined.  Mr J’s children were unaware of the actions against him.

Personal statement from Mr J:  After visits to a psychiatrist it was established that due to the stresses of a shift to Auckland, three moves of home, being in a new school, teaching in two different departments and adjusting to a new environment, that these contributing factors resulted in the unlikely behaviour of downloading online resources without realising the implications of him doing so.  He admitted to the fact that it had been done, and what was copied was not actual examinations and tests, but rather revision worksheets.  The school maintained that it was a deliberate breech of professionalism.  Fortunately Mr J’s teacher registration was not affected.

In reflecting on why this all happened and how much of a big deal it became, Mr J is still working full time at the same school he applied to this year.  He has also been given an MOE study leave award for 2018.

What to consider?  The key stakeholders:  Mr J, the HODs, the IT team, The Principal, SLT, Union Rep(s).  Why was this incident investigated in the first place and had the school suspicions of inappropriate behaviour?  Was Mr J targeted?

Were students affected?  No, since the documentation was never used once the laptop was removed.  Students of Mr J had to have a new teacher for the remainder of the year.  Students of Mr J also questioned what happened to him and why he had left so suddenly?

Impact on stakeholders:  Mr J – on leave, resignation, meetings with union, meetings with school key stakeholders, time with medical professionals, worry and stress due to his actions and those of the school.  Heads of Department – myself – I talked with Mr J and he explained his situation, which was provided to the union in support of Mr J during investigation.  The other Head of Department – matter of files downloaded was out in the open so that action could be taken against Mr J.

Despite the fact that this may seem a not so serious event, it impacted on Mr J a great deal.  Now that it is history, Mr J has overcome the shame and blame for this incident and despite few people knowing what went on, he is happy to still be practicing in a profession he is very passionate about.






5 thoughts on “Legal and Ethical Contexts in my Digital Practice – (school)”

  1. There were lots of legal and ethical issues around schools in New Zealand. Some of them were too sensitive and some are just slight that when you think about it, it’s simple yet becomes a huge issue. While I was reading your blog about Mr. J, I don’t see any big deal if he accidentally downloaded exam papers. It would be better if this was discussed within the department, look for possible solutions and give Mr. J another chance to prove his honesty. Sometimes, people caught up in a situation like this feel pressured and stressed, and that add up to the burden of thinking and blaming self.
    How do we stop this dilemma ftom happening? What preventive measures could have been done in order to secure the files and only authorised people will have access? What must be the role of IT people in securing the firewall and filters of accessing files? And lastly, how could the mangement measure the integrity and honesty of the teachers? Will there be another chance to prove them?
    I enjoyed reading your post. I could relate well with this kind of story based from what I’ve witnessed too.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Ellen. I am pleased that for Mr J the outcome was a positive one. Just the fact that he had to deal with this matter in this way caused him so much stress, and yet as you said, it could have been dealt with out of ‘court’. As teachers we must always demonstrate integrity and do what is right. It is all part of the teacher role.


  3. This was really interesting to read from a first year beginning teacher, and I love the way you have described all of the details in such a balanced and manner of fact way. I am learning more about the kinds of issues that can come up, and it is really good to understand them from a HOD position as well. Also great to hear that despite this issue Mr J was able to stay on and remain a respected teacher. Thanks for sharing this experience!


    1. Thanks for the comments Elizabeth. Mr J experienced a terrible year – it was actually at another school (not mine) but to keep it all confidential, the scenario was as written. Mr J is really looking forward to his study leave next year. A very intelligent, dedicated family man who didn’t deserve the way he was treated. It is a school that has had many teacher events in the past – a best friend of mine, who was accused by a student of bullying and terrorising her – the teacher was blamed and had to apologise & pay money, otherwise it was going further up the ladder – awful stuff. In my own school cases of fraud, pornography, exposure, inappropriate behaviour with another student … and at another school teacher being accused of theft and ill-treating students, totally false, she left and now resides in Brisbane and is loving it! Actually the whole family moved, left the house her husband had built and packed up – gone! it really is so crazy. I was thinking the other day about moderation – the teacher who signs off students work using another teachers name & signing it off – wrong! teachers have been stricken off for doing that. I have been teaching for 30+ years now and believe me I have seen a lot of non sense, but also remember all the great times and new learning experiences – like Mind Lab! Hope all is going well for you – Regards, Prue


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