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De Jure

On-line version ISSN 2225-7160
Print version ISSN 1466-3597

De Jure (Pretoria) vol.44 n.1 Pretoria  2011




Student/learner allegations of teacher sexual misconduct: A teacher's right to privacy and due process


Student/leerder bewerings van seksuele wangedrag deur onderwysers: 'n Onderwyser se reg op privaatheid en administratiewe geregtigheid



Elda de WaalI; Ralph D MawdsleyII

IBA Hons M Ed PhD Associate Professor, Education Law, North-West University, Vaal Triangle Faculty
IIJD PhD Professor, Special Education and Sports Law, Cleveland State University, USA




Veel is op die spel wat betref die seksuele wangedrag van opvoeders in die VSA en Suid-Afrika. Albei lande verwag van veral opvoeders om die misbruik van kinders by die onderskeie maatskaplike dienste en wetstoepassers aan te meld: die versuim hiervan kan in die VSA lei tot die herroeping van onderriglisensies. Hierdie artikel fokus op (i) die mate waartoe lede van die publiek daarop geregtig is om die name van aangeklaagde opvoeders te ken, (ii) wie seksuele klagte behoort te ondersoek, en (iii) op watter privaatheid opvoeders tydens die ondersoek aanspraak kan maak. Hierdie saak word vanuit 'n VSA en RSA regsvergelykende perspektief aangespreek, met spesifieke verwysing na die feiteondersoek-proses en Skoolbeheerliggame se beheeruitoefeningsrol in die Suid-Afrikaanse openbare onderwyssektor, en skool amptenare se rol in die VSA. Uit die bespreking van hoe die VSA tot onlangs hierdie dilemma aangespreek het, blyk dit dat opvoeders geregtig behoort te wees op beskerming teen die skade wat ongestaafde bewerings van seksuele wangedrag hulle reputasies kan aandoen. Van die aanbevelings wat gemaak word om die Suid-Afrikaanse situasie te remedieer is dat die feiteondersoek-proses na aanleiding van 'n klag van seksuele wangedrag onberispelik bestuur moet word, en dat regsprekers in laer howe een of ander bewusmaking moet ondergaan ten opsigte van basiese feite-ondersoek flaters wat hulle op hierdie vlak begaan.



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1 189 P3d 139, 155 1234 Ed Law Rep 1007 Wash 2008.
2 Idem.
3 38 of 2005.
4 Idem s 2(b), 2(b)(iii) and 2(b)(i).
5 Idem s 2(b)(iv), 7(1) and 9. See also s 28(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
6 32 of 2007.
7 Idem Preamble.
8 See, for example, the unreported case of HK van Niekerk v The State Case No A215/2007 TPD and the District Court Kimberley case of S v Du Plessis Case No ASOC 122/2004: both of them teachers who were eventually found innocent of the sexual charges learners brought against them.
9 S v Dodo (Dodo) 2001 1 SACR 594 CC 595.
10 See Vlaakazi v S [2008] 4 All SA 396 (SCA); S v B 2006 1 SACR 311 SCA at 316.
11 The issue of civil damages presents two separate aspects in the US: the first aspect is whether a teacher can sue school officials or the school board where personally identifiable information has been released about the teacher without consent. See, in this regard, Prosser Privacy 1960 Cal L Rev 383 398, describing a private facts tort as an extension of defamation, except that the private facts tort punishes the publication of truthful non-newsworthy matter that is damaging to a person's reputation. The second aspect of civil damages is whether the school district is liable in damages for teacher sexual misconduct with students. See McQuillin The Law of Municipal Corporations 16B (2011) par 13.25,         [ Links ] indicating that where there is no conspicuous, plain, and clear reason to exclude liability coverage for teachers' criminal acts of sexual misconduct with students, the teacher is covered by the district's policy to the extent that the teacher is considered to have committed a "wrongful act" under the school board's liability policy.
12 Beckham Meeting legal challenges (1996) 70-73 ;         [ Links ] Thomas, Cambron-McCabe and McCarthy Public school law - teachers ' and students ' rights (2009) 415-418, indicating that inasmuch as teachers are viewed as student role models the threshold for determining when a teacher acts immorally is fairly low and acts of moral turpitude, criminal convictions, and sexual misconduct with students constitute the typical grounds for disciplinary action on the grounds of immorality). But see Matter of Renewal of Teaching Certificate of Thompson 893 P2d 301, 99 Ed Law Rep 1108 Mont 1995, where the board of education's order denying the renewal of a teaching certificate on the grounds of the moral unfitness of a teacher accused of and acquitted on criminal charges of sexual misconduct with students was clearly in violation of teacher's due process rights, and the trial court properly reversed the board's order, where the decision of the board was clearly erroneous and unsupported by substantial evidence.
13 US Department of Education, Office of the Under Secretary, Policy and Program Studies Service "Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature" Washington DC Doc # 2004-09 2004. Report is available at:
14 See Shakeshaft "Educator sexual abuse" 2003 Hofstra Horizons 10-13; also an analysis of the Shakeshaft data by the American Association of University Women reported in Educator Sexual Misconduct, where students were asked to respond to the following kinds of teacher sexual abuse:
15 Idem 18.
16 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405 189 P3d 139.
17 Idem.
18 Rev Code of Wash, ch 42.17.
19 Rev Code of Wash, ch 42.56. A change in the name from PDA to PRA did not change the statutory content as affecting this case.
20 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue School District No 405 189 P3d 139 143.
21 Rev Code of Wash ch. 42.56.010(2).
22 Idem ch 42.56.050.
23 Idem ch 42.56.070 (1) (emphasis added).
24 Idem ch 42.56.060.
25 Idem ch 41.06.450(1)(b), (2)(a) and (b).
26 Bellevue John Does 1-11 v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405 120 P3d 616, 620 202 Ed Law Rep 346 Wash Ct App 2005.
27 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue School District No 405 189 P3d 139 143.
28 Bellevue John Does 1-11 v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405120 P3d 621.
29 Ch 42.56.550 (3) PDA.
30 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405189 P3d 139.
31 Ibid.
32 Bellevue John Does 1-11 v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405120 P3d 616 620.
33 Idem 623-24. In Washington, "[a] counseling letter, or 'letter of direction', is a practice a district may use to respond when it views a teacher's conduct as inappropriate but not serious enough to warrant a reprimand or other discipline." Idem 621.
34 Idem 627.
35 A complaint involving a teacher "sitting out in the hallway with a middle school girl on his lap turned out to be a blatant fabrication by an unruly student whose credibility was completely undermined by an immediate investigation." Idem 628.
36 Two complaints involved rape, one an "accusation that the teacher was guilty of violent rape, kidnapping, and satanic torture[,] was completely implausible [because it lacked any] corroborat[ion] by physical evidence, [and] no one reading the file would reasonably believe that the allegations against [the teacher]were anything but fabrications". Idem 627. A second complaint concerning "an individual with a well documented history of psychiatric problems [that] was purportedly based on a memory suppressed for 15 years ... [and during the investigation produced no] corroborative evidence ... [but did reveal that] ... [t]he accuser and her mother both admitted to the investigator that the police report had been filed with the thought of getting money from the teacher." Idem 627-28.
37 Rev Code of Wash ch 42.56.230(2): "Personal information in files maintained for employees, appointees, or elected officials of any public agency to the extent that disclosure would violate their right to privacy."
38 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405 189 P3d 139.
39 Idem 153.
40 Idem. The court found this definition similar to other states within the Ninth Circuit. See for example Alaska Stat 40.25.350(2) 2006 ("information that can be used to identify a person and from which judgments can be made about a person's character, habits, avocations, finances, occupation, general reputation, credit, health, or other personal characteristics"); Cal Civ Code 1798.3(a) West 2005: "any information that is maintained by an agency that identifies or describes an individual, including, but not limited to, his or her name, social security number, physical description, home address, home telephone number, education, financial matters, and medical or employment history."
41 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue School District No 405 189 P3d 139.
42 791 P2d 526, Ed Law Rep 638 Wash 1990.
43 Idem 147 (emphasis added), citing Brouillet v Cowles Publishing Co791 P2d 526, 532, 530 Ed Law Rep 638 Wash 1990 (holding that disclosure of teacher records was permissible as "effective law enforcement" under state statute because revocation of a teacher's license involves the "imposition of sanctions for illegal conduct.")
44 845 P2d 995.
45 Idem: "if public employees were aware that their performance evaluations were freely available to their co-workers, their neighbors, the press, and anyone else who cares to make a request under the act, employee morale would be seriously undermined."
46 Restatement (second) of torts par 652D 1977.
47 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405189 P3d 139 147 (emphasis added).
48 Ibid.
49 Idem147-48.
50 Ibid.
51 Idem 149.
52 Idem 150
53 Idem 150-51.
54 Idem 151 (emphasis added).
55 Idem 152.
56 Idem 153.
57 See Stern v Wheaton-Warrenville Community Unit School Dist 200, 894 NE2d 818 237 Ed Law Rep 509 Ill App Ct 2008, in holding that the details of a superintendent's employment contract were not exempt public records under state law, the court observed that "the disclosure of information that bears on the public duties of public employees and officials shall not be considered an invasion of personal privacy" (emphasis in original); Anonymous v Board of Educ for Mexico Cent School Dist 616 NYS2d 867 4 Ed Law Rep 883 NY Sup Ct 1994, holding that a settlement agreement disposing of charges of misconduct against a teacher was subject to disclosure under the Freedom of Information Law.
58 For a comprehensive discussion of cases discussing the balance between disclosure and invasion of privacy, see Nadel "What constitutes personal matters exempt from disclosure by invasion of privacy exemption under state freedom of information Act[s]" 2008 ALR 666.
59 See for example, Booth Newspapers Inc v Kalamazoo School Dist 450 NW2d 286 58 Ed Law Rep 295 Mich Ct App 1989, awarding partial attorney fees to a newspaper that prevailed in securing disclosure of information about allegations of sexual misconduct even though the teacher's name could be redacted.
60 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405 189 P3d 139 154.
61 Appellate Brief of Amicus Curiae Washington Education Association Feb 4, 2005, 2005 WL 5288867 *1 (hereinafter referred to as WEA Appellate Brief).
62 Idem *3.
63 Ibid.
64 Idem *4.
65 Idem *5 (emphasis added).
66 Brown v Seattle Public Schools 860 P2d 1059, 1063 86 Ed Law Rep 475 Wash Ct App 1993, dealing with a request for evaluation records of a school principal under the prior PDA, not involving sexual misconduct but still involving the same public interest issue.
67 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405189 P3d 139 158 Madsen J dissenting: "the majority leaves school districts free to control whether an accused teacher's identity must be released by controlling the scope and depth of its investigation."
68 WEA Appellate Brief * 15 and 16. The trial court in Bellevue conducted an in camera review of all the records sought by the Seattle Times and on the basis of that review decided to disclose teachers' records where either there had been substantiated evidence of misconduct or an inadequate investigation. Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405 1 89 P3d 139 143.
69 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405 189 P3 d 139 143.
70 Idem 151: "the identities of teachers who are subjects of unsubstantiated complaints should not be disclosed, regardless of the quality of the investigation."
71 See for example, Peck v Siau 827 P2d 1108 73 Ed Law Rep 859 Wash Ct App 1992 holding that a school district could not be held liable to a high school student with whom the school librarian had sexual contact, on the theory of negligent supervision of the librarian, absent showing that the district knew, or in exercise of reasonable care should have known, that the librarian constituted a risk of danger to the students. See generally, Miller "Liability, under state law claims, of public and private schools and institutions of higher learning for teacher's, other employee's, or student's sexual relationship with, or sexual harassment or abuse of, student" 2001 ALR 86.
72 See for example, Christensen v Royal Sch Dist No 160 124 P3d 283 287 204 Ed Law Rep 385 Wash 2005, rejecting a school's claim that a contributory defense should be permitted to an eighth grade student who had sexual contact with a teacher, reasoning that "children do not have a duty to protect themselves from sexual abuse by their teachers" and if the student's lies frustrated the school's investigation, that would relate to the breach of a school's duty to supervise its students.
73 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405189 P3d 139 151.
74 Idem 158 (Madsen J dissenting).
75 See Stuart "Citizen teacher: damned if you do, damned if you don't" 2008 U Cin L Rev 1331, applying the foxes and henhouse argument to school boards after Garcetti v Ceballos 547 US 410 2006. The latter allows boards to retaliate and, thus, control teacher speech where that speech is part of a teacher's job.
76 Appellate Brief of Seattle Times, 2004 WL 5252059 *3-4 Wash.
77 See Yates v Mansfield Bd of Educ808 NE2d 861 Ohio 2004, where a school principal conducted the internal investigation of a student's complaint of coach sexual harassment, determining that the student was lying, but the case was remanded in subsequent damages lawsuit for negligent supervision and retention as to whether the principal had a duty under the state's child abuse reporting statute to report the alleged harassment to social services under a "knew or reasonably suspected" standard.
78 See, the United States Department of Health and Human Services National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information listings of each state's mandatory reporting statutes, what professions are required to report, and which states recognize an exception to mandatory reporting due to privileged communications; Veilleux "Validity, construction, and application of state statute requiring doctor or other person to report child abuse", 2005 ALR 782.
79 See Seattle Times Appellate Brief* 14.
80 See, for example, West's Ann Cal Penal Code par 11165.12 defining the following results of a social services investigation:
"(a) 'Unfounded report' means a report that is determined by the investigator who conducted the investigation to be false, to be inherently improbable, to involve an accidental injury, or not to constitute child abuse or neglect.
(b) 'Substantiated report' means a report that is determined by the investigator who conducted the investigation to constitute child abuse or neglect, based upon evidence that makes it more likely than not that child abuse or neglect, as defined, occurred.
(c) 'Inconclusive report' means a report that is determined by the investigator, who conducted the investigation not to be unfounded, but the findings are inconclusive and there is insufficient evidence to determine whether child abuse or neglect ... has occurred."
81 See for example, BT v Santa Fe Pu Schs 506 FSupp2d 718 225 Ed Law Rep 300 DNM 2007
82 See the Reply Brief of Appellant Bellevue John Doe Np 11 (May 28 2004) *3 (hereinafter referred to as "Reply Brief of John Doe #11").
83 Idem
84 Bellevue John Does v Bellevue Sch Dist No 405 189 P3d 139.
85 See WEA Appellate Brief *9; Reply Brief of John Doe #11 *4.
86 Supplemental brief of respondent Seattle Times Company Feb 2 2007 *2 (hereinafter referred to as "Sup. Seattle Times Brief". See Spokane Police Guild v Washington State Liquor Control Bd 769 P2d 283 Wash 1989, holding that an investigative report regarding the investigation of liquor law violations on policy guild property had to be disclosed, because under state law it would not be highly offensive to a reasonable person and was not of legitimate concern to the public.
87 See Athens Observer Inc v Anderson 263 SE2d 128 130 Ga 1980, upholding the disclosure of a consultant's evaluative report of the mathematics department with comments on the faculty, because the public policy was not only to encourage public access to such information in order that the public could evaluate the expenditure of public funds in the efficient and proper functioning of its institutions, but also to foster confidence in government through openness to the public.
88 See United Federation of Teachers v New York City Health and Hospitals Corp 428 NYS2d 823 NY Sup Ct 1980, upholding under the state Freedom of Information Act, the disclosure of grievances and decisions rendered on grievances filed by registered nurses represented by competing union, but only after all personal identifying details were redacted and deleted from the records.
89 See News and Observer Pub Co v State ex rel Starling309 SE2d 731-732 NC Ct App 1983, upholding the trial courts disclosure of an investigative report of a school superintendent after balancing the interests of disclosure and confidentiality, reasoning that the public's interest prevailed "as to how the official is functioning who is entrusted with responsibility for the day-to-day operations of the Wake County Public Schools".
90 See for example, Littlejohn v Rose768 F2d 765 26 Ed Law Rep 955 6th Cir 1985, cert. denied, 475 US 1045 1985, where a non-tenured teacher's privacy right might have been violated if the school board's non-renewal decision was based on her divorce.
91 US Const amend XIV par 1 ("[No] State shall ... deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law").
92 Roe v Wade410 US 113 152 1973.
93 Whalen v Roe429 US 589, 599-600 1977.
94 S 2 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Amendment Act 32 of 2007.
95 Idem s 2(d).
96 S 28(2) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
97 Idem s 14; see also ss 9, 10, 12 and 33.
98 S 17(1)(b) and (c) of the Employment of Educators Act 76 of 1998, which point out certain dismissal of educators who have been found guilty of acts of sexual assault on and/or sexual relationships with learners.
99 S 1(a) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 provides "The Republic of South Africa is a democratic state founded on human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms."
100 Idem s 7(1) which also describes the Bill of Rights as "a cornerstone of democracy."
101 Idem s 10.
102 See S v Makwanyane 1995 6 BCLR 665 CC 722-23.
103 Preamble to the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
104 See Mawdsley and De Waal "Symbolism in education: a comparative legal analysis of symbolism, language and culture in the United States and South Africa" 2008 De Jure 561-579.
105 S 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
106 Sentence was handed down by the regional court at Klerksdorp in 2003.
107 HK van Niekerk v The State Case No A215/2007 TPD.
108 Idem par 3.
109 Idem par 7. See also par 15.
110 Ibid.
111 Idem par 8.
112 Idem par 8. See also par 4.
113 Ibid.
114 Idem par 16.
115 Idem paras 9 and 23.
116 Idem paras 24-25. See also par 22.
117 Idem par 25. See also par 11.
118 Idem paras 21, 22, 30 and 32.
119 Idem paras 18 and 34.
120 Idem paras 34-36.
121 Idem par 36.
122 Idem par 21.
123 Idem par 37.
124 Idem paras 1 and 37(2).
125 Beeld (2002-01-15) 4.
126 Ibid. The female educator, Van Niekerk, described the four years as being an ordeal and of having been literally stripped naked in court; see also s 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996, which recognizes human dignity both as a human attribute and a fundamental right.
127 S 10 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
128 Idems 9(1).
129 Regional court held at Kimberley, Case No ASOC 122/2204.
130 Idem par 2.
131 Idem par 6.
132 Idem paras 6-7.
133 Idem paras 7, 10 and 11.
134 Idem paras 10-11 and 15.
135 Idem paras 8-9.
136 Idem paras 14-15.
137 Idem par 2.
138 Idem paras 7-8.
139 Idem par 8.
140 Idem par 3. The regional court referred to S v Tsele 1998 2 SASV 178 A 182 E where the Appellate Division reminded everyone of the duty the State has to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and not beyond any inkling of doubt.
141 S v Alex Carriers 1998 3 SA 79 T, where the Provincial Court stated that it was not necessary for the accused person/s to push the wall of guilt over the side of the State.
142 Idem par 4.
143 HK van Niekerk v The State Case No A215/2007 TPD.
144 Idem par 8.
145 S 208 of the Criminal Procedure Act 51 of 1977.
146 Ibid.
147 HK van Niekerk v The State Case No A215/2007 TPD paras 4-5.
148 Idem par 10.
149 Idem par 9.
150 Idem paras 15-1 7.
151 S 35(3)(h) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996; S v Dodo 2001 1 SACR 594 CC paras 386 and 403.
152 S 12 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
153 Hurt and Ndlovu JJ, sitting in the Pietermaritzburg High Court in October 2006, found the story against the suspended principal to have been fabricated.
154 [2007] ZASCA 113.
155 Idem par 3
156 Idem par 9.
157 Ibid.
158 Idem par 2.
159 Idem par 3.
160 Idem par 4.
161 Ibid.
162 Ibid, referring to S v Van Vuuren 1983 1 SA 12 A 21E.
163 Idem par 9.
164 Idem paras 5, 8 and 11.
165 Idem par 5.
166 Idem paras 10-12.
167 Idem par 14.
168 Idem par 15; see also s 35(3)(g) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
169 Idem par 15.
170 Ibid.
171 Idem paras 1 and 16: the sentence of 15 years' imprisonment was set aside, a three years' term was handed down and so he was released from prison immediately, since he had already served five years there.
172 S 12(1)(e) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996; see also S v Fhetani 2007 ZASCA 113 par 6.
173 2008 SCA 87 RSA.
174 Idem par 21.
175 Ibid.
176 Ibid.
177 Idem paras 22 and 50.
178 Idem par 22.
179 Idem par 47.
180 Idem par 48. See also R v Blom 1939 AD 188 AT 202-03.
181 See also R v M 1946 AD 1023 1027; S v Khubeka1982 1 SA 534 W 537E; S v Ipeleng 1993 2 SACR 185 T 189b-i.
182 Vilakazi v S 2008 SCA 87 RSA par 48.
183 Idem par 60.
184 Nonyane v S 2006 SCA 23 RSA.
185 Idem par 6(2).
186 Idem paras 7 and 8.
187 Idem paras 3 and 6(1).
188 Idem par 6(1).
189 Idem par 6(5). See S v Ipeleng 1993 2 SACR 185 T 189b-i.
190 Nonyane v S 2006 SCA 23 RSA par 6 (3).
191 Idem par 6(3)(a) and (b).
192 Idem at par 6(4).
193 Idem at par 1.
194 2005 1 SACR 420 SCA 422.
195 Idem 430.
196 Idem 421-22 and 431.
197 Idem 427.
198 Ibid.
199 Ibid.
200 Ibid.
201 Idem 428.
202 Ibid.
203 Idem422.
204 Idem 423, 428 and 434.
205 Idem 421-23 and 428-30.
206 Idem 422 and 434.
207 590/06 2008 ZASCA 129.
208 Idem par 3.
209 Idem par 10.
210 Idem par 13; see also S v Chabalala 2003 1 SACR 134 SCA par 15.
211 Monageng v S 590/06 2008 ZASCA 129 par 14. See R v Mambo 1957 4 SA 727 A 738A; S v Phallo 1999 2 SACR 558 SCA par 10 and 11.
212 HK van Niekerk v The State Case No A215/2007 TPD.
213 Idem par 9.
214 Idem par 10.
215 Ss 23(1)(b) and 24(1)(j) of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996.
216 HK van Niekerk v The State Case No A215/2007 TPD par 21.
217 Idem par 23.
218 S 16(1) of the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996.
219 Idem s 16(2)
220 Idem s 16A(2)(c).
221 Idem s 16(3).
222 Idem s 16A(1)(a).
223 Idem s 16A(2)(d).
224 HK van Niekerk v The State Case No A215/2007 TPD.

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