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- Unreported Judgment
QUEENSLAND CIVIL AND ADMINISTRATIVE TRIBUNAL
Queensland College of Teachers v Teacher LTN  QCAT 90
Queensland college of TEACHERS
Occupational regulation matters
24 March 2020
On the papers
Senior Member Aughterson
EDUCATION- TRAINING AND REGISTRATION OF TEACHERS – SUSPENSION OF TEACHER REGISTRATION – continuation of suspension – whether teacher does not pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children - whether suspension should continue
Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act 2005 (Qld), s 7, s 49, s 50, s 53, s 55, s 55A, s 285AA
Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld), s 66
Queensland College of Teachers v LDW  QCAT 48
This matter was heard and determined on the papers pursuant to s 32 of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld)
REASONS FOR DECISION
- Teacher LTN has been registered in Queensland as a teacher since 2002. On 21 February 2020, the Queensland College of Teachers (‘the College’) suspended his registration pursuant to s 49 of Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act 2005 (Qld) (‘the Act’).
- By s 49 of the Act, the College may suspend a teacher’s registration if it reasonably believes the teacher poses an unacceptable risk of harm to children. By s 50(1), the College must give notice of the suspension to the teacher, which notice includes a statement that the Tribunal will review the continuation of the suspension to decide whether the teacher poses an unacceptable risk of harm to children.
- In accordance with s 50(5) of the Act, the College has referred the continuation of the suspension to QCAT for review and seeks an order that the suspension continue. By s 53(1), the Tribunal must decide whether to continue the suspension, while s 53(3) requires the Tribunal to continue the suspension unless satisfied that the teacher does not pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children.
- As required by the Act, directions were made by the Tribunal inviting submissions from Teacher LTN as to why he does not pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children. Teacher LTN filed submissions on 11 March 2020 and the College filed submissions in response on 24 March 2020.
- While the Act does not define the term “unacceptable risk of harm”, by s 7 of the Act ‘harm’ to a child is ‘any detrimental effect of a significant nature on the child’s physical, psychological or emotional wellbeing’. As to ‘unacceptable risk’, see Queensland College of Teachers v LDW: “this formulation directs the Tribunal to an assessment of the ‘chances’ of the risk occurring and the magnitude of potential harm if it did occur, and requires a balancing exercise of advantages and detriments”.
- By the terms of s 53(3)(b) of the Act, it is not required that the Tribunal be satisfied that there is an unacceptable risk of harm. Rather the sub-section is cast in negative terms. The Tribunal must decide to continue the suspension unless satisfied that the teacher does not pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children.
- The notice of suspension set out the College’s reasons for forming the view that Teacher LTN posed an unacceptable risk of harm to children: engaging in inappropriate social media communications with a student, while she was a student at Teacher LTN’s school and for some months after her departure from the school. At relevant times, the student was under 16 years of age. The communications included discussion of illicit drug use, offering to supply illicit drugs to the student, advice as to where she could obtain alcohol and drugs, suggestions of taking drugs together, and engaging in inappropriate and overfamiliar social media conversations with the student.
- In submissions filed in the Tribunal, Teacher LTN stated that he has never taken drugs and has never supplied drugs or alcohol to anyone. Further, he stated that his role at the school involved working with students to resolve complex and disturbing student issues and that in his years as a teacher there had never been a complaint against him. In relation to the student in question, he stated that he became concerned about her wellbeing, felt the need to help her, needed to keep communication open with her and, accordingly, used language to which she could relate. He stated that he deflected her requests to ‘party’ and buy alcohol for her by saying ‘not now but maybe in the future’, adding that the purpose of the communications was to help and support and ‘possibly resolve an incredibly difficult situation’. It is not made clear why Teacher LTN believed at the time that his adopted approach might have achieved that objective. On the other hand, Teacher LTN stated that he doesn’t specifically remember writing all of the communications, that the communications were out of character, that he wasn’t thinking straight at the time and that he handled the situation ‘incredibly badly’.
- Directly relevant to the question of whether he poses an unacceptable risk of harm to children, in his submissions Teacher LTN makes scant reference to likely future behaviour. While he stated that he ‘was not thinking straight’, displayed ‘a severe lack of judgment’, has an unblemished record, and had the student’s best interests at heart, nothing is said about steps taken to correct the lack of judgment and to ensure that the conduct is not repeated. There is no reference to counselling, or the undertaking of any relevant courses, or to how he might handle any similar cases as a teacher in the future. As submitted by the College, Teacher LTN ‘went beyond his scope of practice as a teacher by providing untrained advice and failed to obtain the expert care and support the student required as a matter of priority’.
- On the material before me, I am not satisfied that Teacher LTN does not pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children. I therefore order that the suspension of Teacher LTN’s registration as a teacher is to continue.
- I note that under s 55(6) of the Act, Teacher LTN may apply within 28 days of the notice of this decision to QCAT for review of this decision. He may at that point provide any additional material which may support a submission that he does not pose an unacceptable risk of harm to children.
- Pursuant to s 66(1)(c) of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld) the Tribunal may make an order prohibiting the publication of information that may enable a person who has appeared before the Tribunal, or is affected by a proceeding, to be identified. The Tribunal may do so on the application of a party or on its own initiative. The College submits that it is not in the public interest to identify the relevant student or school and that identification of the teacher may in turn lead to identification of the school and student.
- I am satisfied that it would be contrary to the public interest for information to be published that would identify the relevant student, school or teacher. This non-publication order can be revisited in any subsequent disciplinary proceedings.
- I make orders pursuant to s 66 of the QCAT Act prohibiting the publication of information that may identify Teacher LTN, a relevant student or former student, or the relevant school, other than to the extent necessary to enable the College to meet its statutory obligations; in particular, those arising under s 55A and 285AA of the Education (Queensland College of Teachers) Act.
 The Act, s 50(3)(c). The ‘review’ is conducted in the original jurisdiction of the Tribunal: see s 53(2) of the Act.
 The Tribunal directions were issued on 4 March 2020, requiring any submissions to be filed by 8 April 2020.
  QCAT 48 -.
 See also s 55(1)(b) of the Act.
 Section 66(3) of the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal Act 2009 (Qld).
- Published Case Name:
Queensland College of Teachers v Teacher LTN
- Shortened Case Name:
Queensland College of Teachers v Teacher LTN
 QCAT 90
Senior Member Aughterson
24 Mar 2020