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- Unreported Judgment
Queensland College of Teachers v Teacher X  QCAT 108
Queensland College of Teachers
Occupational regulation matters
11 February 2016
Senior Member Stilgoe OAM
2 March 2016
It is ordered:
DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS – TEACHERS – where teacher was convicted of indictable offences – where mitigating circumstances – whether grounds for disciplinary action established – appropriate penalty
Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act 2005 (Qld) s 92
APPEARANCES AND REPRESENTATIVES:
Queensland College of Teachers, represented by its officer, Mr Gormley
Teacher X, represented by Mr Knott SC of Counsel Mr A.E. Knott Special Counsel of TressCox Lawyers
REASONS FOR DECISION
- In 2014, Teacher X travelled to a remote rural town with her young son to take up a teaching position. Her job was difficult and she was removed from her normal support network. She had a car accident, which resulted in substantial pain and she began taking prescription pain killers.
- While under the influence of pain killers Teacher X went to numerous shops and took goods without paying. She also had altered prescriptions in her possession. It is accepted she did not profit by her actions and had little recollection of the events.
- Teacher X was charged with multiple indictable offences of stealing and forgery and appeared in the local court in November 2014. She was sentenced to three years probation with no conviction recorded.
- This was not the first time Teacher X had acted in this manner. She had a tumultuous childhood, left home at an early age and engaged in risk taking behaviours. When she was about 22 she undertook a course to gain entry to University. She was successful and ultimately completed a Bachelor of Special Education. During her time at University she was diagnosed with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, as a result of her early childhood experiences. She was prescribed various prescription drugs. While under the influence of those drugs she committed offences in 2008. Her son was born in 2010 and further medical complications ensued. She committed further offences in 2010.
- On 1 May 2015 the College brought a referral to QCAT, the disciplinary body under the Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act 2005 (Qld), on the ground that Teacher X ‘has been convicted of an indictable offence that is not a serious offence.’ It is the responsibility of this Tribunal to determine if the ground for disciplinary action has been established and, if so, to decide what disciplinary action should be taken.
- It is accepted that Teacher X is a ‘relevant teacher’ as defined by the Act.
- It is submitted by the College and accepted by Teacher X that the ground for disciplinary action has been established.
- We are satisfied the ground has been established and the issue that remains for determination relates to penalty.
What is the appropriate penalty?
- The disciplinary actions that may be taken are set out in the Act and include the power to issue a warning or reprimand, accept an undertaking from the teacher or to impose conditions on the teacher’s registration.
- It is submitted by both parties the appropriate penalty is a warning or reprimand with conditions. Teacher X has also offered certain undertakings.
- At first glance, it is difficult to see the basis for the lenient approach proposed. Teacher X has a significant criminal history. Her offending was considered at the time of her registration in 2009. Disciplinary proceedings followed her offending in 2010 when she was issued with a warning. She is now before this Tribunal on the basis of very similar charges. Her repeated offending appears to suggest a disregard of the laws designed to protect the community.
- The College has identified the following factors to consider in this case:
- a)Teacher X cannot remember the offending because she was under the influence of Valium at the time.
- b)The conduct was entirely inconsistent with someone who was attempting to benefit personally from theft and fraud.
- c)Teacher X cooperated with the police and pleaded guilty to all offences.
- d)The number of charges on her criminal history obscures the actual degree of criminality involved.
- e)Teacher X has changed her personal situation such that she now has the support of health professionals, family and friends.
- f)Full restitution was made.
- g)The references provided by people aware of her offending are impressive.
- h)The public does not need to be protected from Teacher X and the offences did not involve children.
- Teacher X provided affidavits describing her past history and her present involvement with her probation officer and treating health professional. She gave oral evidence to the Tribunal. We were impressed with her frank disclosures and the steps she has taken to guard against a relapse.
- Initially required to attend probation weekly, Teacher X now attends monthly. She is not required to undergo drug screening. She is required to provide receipts from her psychologist but has not been asked to undergo further programs, although she did complete an Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Program.
- She has been actively engaged with a psychologist since October 2014. She recently changed her psychologist to ‘work on issues to make sure I never end up in a position like this again’. She is committed to her present monthly meetings with her psychologist and understands that she will continue to need her support.
- Asked about her current medical status Teacher X explained that she was aware in the past she had stopped treatment too early and it will take a long time for her to deal with her issues. She has changed her treating psychologist because her previous one was simply supporting her through the process rather the dealing with the underlying issues and how to cope with stress.
- She is still suffering significant anxiety and panic attacks that cause her to struggle to breathe and makes her afraid she might pass out. She is seeing her psychologist weekly. Teacher X said she does not take medication but implements the practices she has been taught such as breathing, taking a moment to settle herself and acknowledging what is happening to her.
- It is a pattern of Teacher X’s behaviour that she has offended when using prescription drugs for pain management. She says her physical conditions are now diagnosed and being well managed.
- Teacher X has chosen to teach students with disabilities. She says this is a challenging and demanding occupation but one she finds very rewarding.
Consideration and decision
- We have considered the evidence and submissions carefully. We have given weight to the repeated offending. We are satisfied the behaviour arose as a result of Teacher X psychological conditions and pain management medications. The circumstances are unusual and can be considered medical rather than criminal challenges.
- This conclusion would not of itself be sufficient to avoid more serious actions, however we are satisfied on the evidence that Teacher X has adopted sufficient protective strategies to limit her risk of reoffending. She is now accessing medical treatment as and when it is necessary and she is continuing psychological treatment.
- Teacher X is committed to providing a good home for her son and supporting her ailing parents. She has a supportive network and has been frank with them about her past history.
- Teacher X is aware of the consequences of further offending and has freely given undertakings to the Tribunal which also carry consequences should she fail to comply.
- We are not satisfied that Teacher X’s behaviour has posed a risk to children or there is evidence to suggest she would not be able to meet her obligation to protect children.
- In considering the question of penalty we were unable to identify any different consequences arising from a warning or a reprimand. However, in submissions, it was generally accepted that a reprimand was considered a more serious penalty than a warning.
- Teacher X was issued a warning in 2010 and reoffended notwithstanding that warning. We therefore consider something more serious is appropriate.
- We have decided to issue a reprimand, accept Teacher X’s undertaking and to place conditions on her registration. The orders will be as follows.
- Teacher X is reprimanded for behaving in ways that do not satisfy the standards of behaviour expected of a teacher.
- Upon accepting the undertaking of Teacher X she is to:
- a)comply with the conditions of the Probation Order imposed by Brisbane Magistrates Court on 28 November 2014
- a)continue to undergo treatment with her psychiatrist and/or psychologist.
- Teacher X must file and serve on the College two reports from her treating psychiatrist or psychologist addressing her current health status and ongoing psychiatric intervention, the first report by 1 December 2016 and the second report by 1 December 2017.
Should a non-publication order be made?
- An order prohibiting the publication of all or part of the proceedings or evidence can only be made if we consider an order necessary to avoid certain identified consequences. In this case the relevant consideration is ‘to avoid endangering the physical or mental health or safety of a person’.
- The College argued the material did not establish the threshold requirements for an order had been met. It submitted the medical reports supporting Teacher X had not referred to a non-publication order and while it was accepted an order would exacerbate her recovery, this was not enough to meet the test that publication would ‘endanger her physical or mental health’.
- In her oral evidence Teacher X was asked about the effect publication would have on her. She said ‘It’s so big I can’t get over it’. She elaborated that she was scared of the possibility her colleagues would know of her past history and felt she would not be able to cope. She said the Principal in Mt Isa knew of her charges in 2014. She felt she would have to relive the nightmare of that extremely difficult time.
- We considered the evidence and the risks that have been identified. We are satisfied that Teacher X’s current medical condition is such that failing to grant a non-publication order would endanger her physical or mental health by putting her in a position where she would have to relive past experiences and perhaps explain them to others. We will make a non-publication order.
Amended by order of the Tribunal 30 March 2016.
Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act 2005 (Qld) s 92(1)(b)
Ibid s 158(1)
Ibid s 160(2)
Professional Practice and Conduct Committee decision dated 7 April 2011
Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 s 66
- Published Case Name:
Queensland College of Teachers v Teacher X
- Shortened Case Name:
Queensland College of Teachers v Teacher X
 QCAT 108
Senior Member Stilgoe
02 Mar 2016