Former AshColl staffer wants action over alleged teacher abuse

Parents and a former staff member are demanding action from Ashburton College over long-term bullying allegations involving a teacher, which the school has denied.

Porsha Coley is leading the charge, having been a special education teacher at the college from 2017 until the end of the first term this year.

She left in April because she said she was not coping with the stress and frustration of alleged incidents against special needs’ students not being properly dealt with.

Coley witnessed what she called physical and emotional abuse episodes toward students from a Te Whare Manaaki (student learning support unit) teacher, who the Guardian chose not to name.

“[This teacher] physically grabs these students, as well as yelling and screaming at them,” Coley said.

“I don’t ever want to teach at a school that does not put their children’s welfare or staff welfare first.”

The teacher did not respond to the accusations that allegedly took place in the unit, which catered for pupils, who suffered from various conditions such as autism and down syndrome.

Ashburton College principal Ross Preece acknowledged there had been some concerns raised, but denied claims of an ongoing investigation and complaints against the teacher.

“It’s a complex situation,” said Preece, who was not prepared to make any further comment when pressed by the Guardian.

Preece would not be drawn into discussing the matter because he wanted the Guardian to first reveal its sources.

“It’s being addressed,” Preece said.

When asked how it was being addressed, Preece said he was not prepared to comment.

Coley was disappointed about the apparent inaction from the school after several concerns had been raised in a letter to the principal on March 16, 2018.

Bullying and intimidating behaviour towards pupils and staff members were outlined in the letter.

“We have seen many students upset and crushed,” the letter stated.

“We have safety concerns for the students in the unit.

This should be a safe place that they feel happy about going to every day.”

E-mails obtained by the Guardian dating back to 2019 also illustrated other concerns from staff members, including an alleged incident where the teacher yelled and threw a pencil case at a pupil.

And in May, Coley took her concerns about what she believed was ongoing verbal and emotional abuse of pupils to the school’s board of trustees.
Board of trustees’ chairwoman Jen Muir, in correspondence dated May 31, kicked the matter back to school management because she said it was “a management responsibility rather than governance”.

A mother of a pupil currently in the class, who the Guardian agreed not to name because she was scared revealing her identity could impact on her child, confirmed she had lodged multiple complaints with the school after she noted a change in her son’s behaviour.

She said she had also witnessed an incident during a visiting day where the teacher was physical with the pupil, forcing the mother to intervene.

It was alleged the teacher grabbed the pupil’s arm and squeezed his hand until he answered an exercise correctly.

Anna Thorpe, who has an autistic son in the class, confirmed she had also expressed concerns to school leaders.

NZCare Disability support worker Amy Smitherham, who worked alongside the Thorpe family, said she had been involved with meetings between the family and the school.

She said she had been obstructed by the teacher from working alongside the pupil at the school, despite being qualified to do so.

– Adam Burns