JAMES PARKER should never have been let past the gates of a school, let alone into a classroom. He should never have been in a position where he could be alone with children, and he certainly should not have been allowed to invite them into his home for sleepovers.
Parker, who has been a teacher since 1999, this week pleaded guilty to 49 charges of indecent assault, performing an indecent act and unlawful sexual connection relating to the abuse of 12 pupils at Kaitaia’s Pamapuria School, where he was the deputy principal.
The abuse occurred despite police warning the school in a strongly worded letter in 2009 that he should not have pupils staying in his house overnight. That warning came after police investigated a complaint about him, but were unable to gather sufficient evidence to prosecute.
Incredibly, the school did nothing, and Parker was able to continue offending.
Even more incredible is the revelation that Parker was flagged as a potential predator in 1999, when he was still a student teacher at another school. Teachers Council director Peter Lind says the then Teachers Registration Board had contact from that school, which raised concerns about Parker’s “professional boundaries”.
The school did not want the concerns taken any further, and a few months later made an application for him to progress from provisional to full registration.
The litany of failures that allowed him to worm his way into a position where he could groom and abuse victims will deeply trouble all mums and dads.
Schools should be safe places for kids. When parents drop their kids at the gates or wave them goodbye as they head out the door, they should do so in the knowledge they are not being put in harm’s way.
It is for those in positions of responsibility to ensure that is so. In Parker’s case, at least two schools failed to take action in the face of concerns that should have set alarm bells ringing.
Pamapuria’s board of trustees has resigned since Parker’s arrest, and a commissioner is now running the school. Police are continuing their investigations into Parker, and the school is also reviewing its policies and procedures.
A further investigation is warranted to determine how Parker came to be registered, why earlier unease about him was not acted upon and whether there are appropriate systems to vet teachers and act when concerns are raised.
In the meantime, Kataia community leader Ricky Houghton says great efforts are being made to support Parker’s victims and reassure them that what happened was not their fault.
That is to be commended. It is not Parker’s victims who are to blame, but those who failed to protect them.
Source: Opinion:Editorial Incredible failures allowed sexual predator to offend
The Dominion Post, Saturday, August 25, 2012, p. C4.