Whose rights trump whose?

Two days ago we?posted a video by Eli Cunliffe, who had been left behind from his school camp, which is still on.

Yesterday?s post showed you some of the communications between Eli?s parents, Regan and Rachel Cunliffe, and the board of trustees at?Helensville Primary School?and how the principal misled them.

Readers have been asking for the back story.? Here’s some of it, beginning with the parents’ well-reasoned complaint being escalated to the board: Quote:

To the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Helensville Primary School:

We are writing regarding concern for the safety of children on the Rata School camp dated May 1-4. Our concern is regarding one of the parents, [redacted], who has shown angry and aggressive behaviour. We request he is to be excluded as a parent helper.

I am the father of Eli Cunliffe (9), a year 5 student in Room [redacted]. My wife Rachel and I also have two other students at Helensville Primary: [redacted].

This is the first year that either my wife or myself have been in a position to be able to attend school camps as a parent helper due to the ages of our younger children.? I had put my name forward as a parent helper for Eli’s school camp [redacted].

On the 28th of February, I was verbally assaulted by [redacted] while stopped at roadworks on State Highway 16.? He exited his vehicle and approached our car, yelling, swearing and accusing me of child abuse through the car window. I had no idea why he was doing this.? Our children, especially Eli who was sitting in the front seat, were frightened and intimidated by his behaviour.

[redacted] later laid a formal complaint with Oranga Tamariki, the Ministry for Vulnerable Children. Eli was interviewed by them and explained that there was nothing to his claims. The case was closed.

My statement to Oranga Tamariki documenting [redacted] behaviour was read by Principal Heasman. We met with her twice to inform her of the situation, the distress to our children over his behavior, and the following investigation. I also advised her that in the event that [redacted] had also put their name forward for camp, I would withdraw myself from the list to prevent any opportunity for unnecessary conflict for the school.

Eli (and also [redacted]) have been traumatised by [redacted] conduct, the resulting investigation, interviews and meetings.

On the 29th of March, Principal Heasman informed me that I wouldn’t be going on camp but that [redacted] would. I was disappointed but accepted this decision. Eli also said he was OK with this as he is fairly independent and has been to camps before without either of us.? However, on learning that [redacted] was going to camp, Eli burst into tears. When asked as to why he was upset, he told us he wasn’t going to go to camp then, for his own safety and he was afraid of [redacted]. ?Because he is an adult, he’s big and he could hurt me,? were his words.

We hadn?t foreseen Eli’s response. Rachel emailed Principal Heasman to inform her of Eli’s comments.

On April the 6th, Eli saw [redacted] after school walking towards him, so Eli ran outside, leaving his friend behind who was coming to stay the night. He ran up to us, upset and visibly shaking in fear that he’d seen him.

On April the 11th, Rachel met with Principal Heasman and Eli to discuss the matter again. Principal Heasman assured Eli that he would be safe and gave him a 100% guarantee. Eli expressed a number of concerns and fears he had and has told us that if [redacted] was going on camp, then he will not be. He told her he was most afraid of [redacted] hurting him while he was on camp. Principal Heasman first said it was ?too late now? for [redacted] to be withdrawn from camp, then when pressed, she admitted it would ?complicate the whole situation more?.

We are concerned about the safety and well-being of Eli on camp given [redacted] very recent angry and aggressive behaviour.

I have since spoken with [redacted] regarding his allegation and he apologised for his aggressive and angry behaviour but put it down to being triggered by events from his own childhood.

Today, April 13th, Principal Heasman emailed Rachel to say that after a lot of consideration she has made the decision to stay with the current situation (i.e. [redacted] attending the camp). She wrote ?I know you may be disappointed by that however this is a personal matter between you as adults and not a school situation. I have given you and Eli my assurance that he will be safe and I stand by that. I hope that you will be able to support him in making a decision to come.?

This is not a personal matter between adults, it is about the safety and well-being of one of her students and a parent of the school during a time where they are responsible for his care. Eli?s fear of [redacted] is real and justified, based on his own first-hand experience and first encounter with him.

While he may indeed be kept safe on camp, he does not feel safe. It is disappointing that a complaint by [redacted] about the well-being of Eli was listened to and investigated, but a complaint by Eli about [redacted] (and his feelings) was dismissed by Principal Heasman in her decision-making as simply a ?personal matter between adults?.

One of the key areas of learning in the New Zealand curriculum is Outdoor Education. We want Eli to go on camp and to learn from this experience. He was very much looking forward to it.

His safety, well-being, and education is paramount and should come before the needs of another parent attending camp. Further, most children go to camp without their parents. We do not see why his removal from camp is not an option.

On receiving Principal Heasman?s email this morning, we replied to inform her we are not satisfied with her decision and would be taking this matter to the board.

The UNCROC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child), ratified by the New Zealand government in 1993, states the following (emphasis ours):

Article 3.1

In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

Article 3.2

States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

Article 12.1.

States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

It is my assessment that Principal Heasman?s decision did not put Eli?s best interests as her primary consideration, nor understood that her assurances of protection and care were not enough for Eli?s well-being, nor gave his views due weight — dismissing him entirely from her written decision to us.

Since the camp begins on May 1, we appreciate your urgent attention to this issue.

Kind regards

Regan Cunliffe, on behalf of Regan and Rachel Cunliffe End quote.

Eleven days pass and the board meets and a further two days pass before a letter explaining the decision is received:

There was some to-and-froing regarding the police investigation and the principal’s misleading of the board.

Regan noted why the?reference to the police investigation in the initial complaint to the board had been omitted: Quote:

Our complaint to the board came as a result of our unhappiness with her decision after she had been made fully informed of all the facts.? We wanted to focus on the well-being, and best interest of Eli and his education in our letter to the board.? We sought advise from a number of third parties, including senior teachers and educational professionals who recommended removing the line about the police investigation and to make the complaint focused entirely on Eli?s well-being and feelings of safety. End quote.

On 28 April the board acknowledged receipt of the audio making them aware that Deborah Heasman had misled them.?Quote:

I acknowledge your further correspondence.

Various issues you have disclosed puts the Board in a position where we require further external and legal advice.

Until we receive that advice – and based on the information we currently have to hand – the Board feels there are no grounds or justification legally or otherwise to exclude [redacted] at this time.

Should contrary advice be received we will take appropriate action at that time.

As per our original response our primary objective is to enable Eli to attend camp and we hope in the intereim you consider the options we previously proposed.?End quote.

The board’s proposal was then firmly rejected:?Quote:

To the Chairman of the Board Of Trustees of Helensville Primary School:

We are writing regarding your April 26 decision of our complaint raised on April 13, 2018.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.

We reject your proposal that either I, or my wife Rachel attend camp along with Eli and [redacted].

I made it very clear, early on, with Principal Heasman, that in the best interest of both the school, and myself, if [redacted] was to be attending camp, then I would not attend in order to prevent any opportunity for conflict.

Principal Heasman?s initial decision acknowledged this conflict, stating that ?this is a personal matter between you as adults?.

With Principal Heasman also attending the camp, an invitation to attend to parents who are also currently in conflict with her provides additional opportunity for confrontation.

Therefore, your proposal that both parents, who are acknowledged to be in conflict, attend the same camp while there are minors under the school?s care is dumbfounding.

I have laid complaints with the police, his employer, the Helensville Primary School Principal, and now the Helensville Primary School Board of Trustees due to his aggressive conduct which has had a negative impact on my children?s well-being, something that Principal Heasman has witnessed, and acknowledged, first hand. I have spoken to [redacted] who has admitted his inappropriate conduct and stated that he wouldn?t expect to be treated the same way.


This has now moved from being about the best interests and well-being of our child to every child attending the Rata camp.

For the Board to have reached this decision given the full facts of this situation seems irresponsible and even reckless to us. However, we acknowledge that it now seems that the Board was not working with the full facts of the situation. We are concerned that it appears that Principal Heasman omitted that she had been told that there was a police investigation into [redacted] conduct during your meeting on April 24. We are also concerned that Principal Heasman told the Board that ?this was not disclosed to her in the meeting with Rachel and Eli? when evidence of the contemporaneous audio recording of that meeting clearly shows that she was.

During that meeting, Principal Heasman told Eli, ?I would a hundred percent make sure you are safe?. Despite this assurance, Eli responded by saying ?It?s not really assuring I will be safe though.? [sic]

Eli already feels unsafe with the prospect of [redacted] being at camp, has clearly stated to Principal Heasman that her assurances are insufficient, and now knows Principal Heasman misled the Board about that meeting.

In our view, she has proven herself to be untrustworthy and damaged her own credibility with one of the children in her care. This is appalling and unacceptable.

Along with us, our wide network of senior teaching professionals, business and media colleagues, and other parents, we are all completely surprised by this decision by the school which has ignored the best interests of the child. They all recommended to us that the right decision is that neither I nor [redacted] attend camp. However, the Board has proposed the complete opposite.

Given that the NZ School Trustees Association states that the outcome of every board of trustees should be ?every student achieving their highest possible educational potential? we believe that Eli?s well-being (and the educational potential represented by the opportunity for the valuable Education Outside the Classroom involved in the camp) should be the first consideration here, and we are deeply concerned that it appears not to be. We also note the Ministry of Education?s National Administration Guideline No. 5, ?Each board of trustees is also required to? provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students? (our emphasis).

Eli is still very much wanting to go on camp on Tuesday without [redacted] present and we are packing his bags in anticipation that the Board reconsiders their decision in time.

We look forward to your timely response.

Regan Cunliffe
On behalf of Regan & Rachel Cunliffe??End quote.

There is more to come…