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Uproar over payout to teacher who had affair

 
 
Reply Wed 7 Apr, 2004 12:58 pm
Quote:
The teacher who played victim

April 8, 2004

Now that Nicki Shackle is an adult, an articulate 19-year-old university student, it is tempting to forget how her relationship with her live-in partner began. The reasonable thing would seem to be just to let the lovebirds live in peace, and not send cameras to hound them in the street so she has to hiss "you people are scum".

But when she first met 53-year-old Jeff Sinclair, Nicki was just 15 and he was her English teacher at Baulkham Hills High School, a married father of three. Regardless of how much in love they may be today and who seduced whom (they have said it was mutual), it does matter that a teacher embarked on an intimate personal relationship with a student he was entrusted to look after.

It certainly matters to Nicki's devastated parents, Judy and Steve Shackle, who were cut out of their eldest daughter's life after they complained to the school about Sinclair's improper interest in her.

Despite all the lip service paid to child protection in recent years, the Shackles have had to battle a particular permissive mindset, in education, legal and media circles, that excuses Sinclair's behaviour, regards them as too strict and views the relationship as "forbidden love" rather than abuse.

In fact, judging by the recent decision of the Workers Compensation Commission awarding Sinclair generous benefits, you would think he was the victim.

It makes for surreal reading. The compensation arbitrator, Bruce McManamey, found that Sinclair suffered a "psychological injury" because of the way the Department of Education handled the allegation that he had developed a "close personal relationship with a student".

McManamey awarded him $28,000 in back pay to the date of his sacking last August plus $317.20 a week from January 21 this year "to date and continuing".

The commission found that Sinclair first met Nicki when he was judging the school's junior writer's prize for major works in 1999, when she was 14, and he was so impressed by her work he showed it to his wife, Sabina, also a teacher. The next year he began helping her write poetry. She confided in him about "the difficulties she was having with her parents" and he confided in her about the death of his son four years earlier.

"There is no evidence that by February 2001 [when Sinclair was removed from the school] there was any sexual relationship or any intimacy which would be the precursor to such a relationship. At that stage Ms Shackle viewed [Sinclair] more as a father figure and [he] was doing no more than providing guidance to a student."

Well, Judy Shackle had evidence she gave to the school that there was more to the relationship. She said yesterday that her suspicions began when she read her then 15-year-old daughter's diary with numerous entries about Sinclair, first described as Mr S, then Jeff and finally J, with the words: "We are in love."

Judy told the school of her concerns in May 2000 but was reassured it was just a "schoolgirl crush".

The Shackles' ongoing suspicions were confirmed in February 2001 when they found "60 or 70 pages" of sexually explicit emails between their daughter and Sinclair. (Sinclair told 60 Minutes last year he doesn't know who sent the emails. "They weren't sent from my email address and they don't have my name in them or anything like that.")

The emails formed part of the Education Department's investigation of Sinclair and some, which were revealed on 60 Minutes, indicate an intimate relationship.

Nicki's email: "I think of you and I melt. I love you." Sinclair's email: "Love you like you wouldn't believe. Always miss you, can feel you, taste you." Nicki: "I can taste you, your tongue, your sweat, your lips." Sinclair: "There's the poetry ... and your breasts, let's not forget them. I certainly haven't."

While the Education Minister, Andrew Refshauge, is appealing against the commission decision and has called it "totally unacceptable", it seems that his department did not provide sufficient evidence.

McManamey complained that it had "not sought to tender any of the material which formed the basis of the investigation". He said it was a difficult investigation because Nicki would not co-operate "and in fact denied the allegations".

McManamey said Sinclair was treated unreasonably because he was told only that he had "developed a close personal relationship with a student", which Sinclair found "quite confusing". "There are many relationships between teachers and students which could be described as close and personal which nonetheless are not improper conduct," McManamey wrote.

The decision to transfer Sinclair to non-teaching duties during the investigation was also "not reasonable". He "was placed in the position of not being able to assist Ms Shackle in what was for her a personally very difficult time".

But the fact that Sinclair and Nicki are in a relationship today would seem to justify Judy and Steve Shackle's suspicions of four years ago. The Shackles feel betrayed by the commission's decision and are still grieving over the estrangement from their daughter.

It was Sinclair's decision to embark on a relationship with his student. And yet, somehow, he continues to be extraordinarily successful at portraying himself as the victim.

Even his 50-year-old wife, Sabina, told Woman's Day last year that he was "a very good man ... a wonderful teacher and talented poet, not a creep ... Jeff is the victim in this". After Sinclair rang Sabina in February 2002 and told her "he wanted to be with Nicki", she blamed Nicki, not her husband. "This is how I was rewarded for the concern, kindness and generosity I showed to a girl I thought was seriously troubled."

She said it was the investigation by the Education Department that changed Sinclair "from being a normal, caring, loving father and husband to someone who behaved oddly. He suffered immense trauma ... He does not deserve what has happened to him. It is a travesty beyond belief."

It sure is.
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pueo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 Apr, 2004 02:51 pm
talk about spin, he comes out as a victim Rolling Eyes

his wife seems a little "off" too.

Quote:
Even his 50-year-old wife, Sabina, told Woman's Day last year that he was "a very good man ... a wonderful teacher and talented poet, not a creep ... Jeff is the victim in this". After Sinclair rang Sabina in February 2002 and told her "he wanted to be with Nicki", she blamed Nicki, not her husband. "This is how I was rewarded for the concern, kindness and generosity I showed to a girl I thought was seriously troubled."

She said it was the investigation by the Education Department that changed Sinclair "from being a normal, caring, loving father and husband to someone who behaved oddly. He suffered immense trauma ... He does not deserve what has happened to him. It is a travesty beyond belief."

It sure is.
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 Apr, 2004 04:02 pm
Grrrrrrrrrrr.

I confess, in my experience these things DO get treated pretty lightly in education. I have personally known two teachers who set up house with underage students/lovers while actually still teaching them! No action was taken...

That being said, if the young person denies the relationship, there is little, legally that can be done - presumption of innocence and all that.
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beebo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 Apr, 2004 07:42 pm
That is disgusting. I hope that the family can sue the school district. In the US we (teachers) are considered mandated reporters of child abuse. That girl can decide up to 25 years after she graduates to sue the school district for not taking appropriate action. If the district suspects that something is going on they are supposed to report the suspected abuser to children and youth.
Notice I said suspect not have proof. Even if it is just a feeling - you are supposed to call.
Where is the father- why didn't he break that guys legs?

Unfortunately I have also seen this type of thing "swept under the rug".
Just last week I had a student in a middle school class try to download child pornograpy on one of my computers. The assistant principal suspended him for 3 days and notified the parents by leaving a message on the answering machine. The student has a 1 year old sister in the home. So, I called because it was the right thing to do and I don't have my head burried up my ass. I am sure he is going to make my life miserable but I have absolutely no respect for the man anymore. And to be honest, I am questioning what the hell I am doing with my life if this is what kind of people are drawn to teaching.
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 Apr, 2004 09:38 pm
Teachers here are mandated notifiers, too.
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beebo
 
  1  
Reply Wed 7 Apr, 2004 10:18 pm
Yes, but we have a "Procedure" that we must follow in our faculty handbook- and basically the procedure says that the principal makes the call.
Well, he didnt, so I did. Really, if he were to take administrative action he would be shooting himself in the foot. But I am sure he will make my life miserable from here on out. I have requested a move to a high school in our district- it happened before this fiasko- so hopefully he wont be a problem next year.
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fattyb
 
  1  
Reply Fri 29 Oct, 2004 11:29 pm
noticed this site whilst searching for something else on Google and I just wanted to say that i go to the school that this incident occured and if we can all get over it i dont see why the rest of the public cant...

most people do not understand the full cicumstances around this incident as most of the media reports came from the child's parents and there are various opinions as to the reliability of their claims..

I agree that the fact that the relationship was allowed to occur is wrong and represents just how unsecure the procedures that are in place are...

but if nothing else for the sake of the girl, people should just get past it...if they're happy now i dont see why everyon eneeds to make it their business and being chased by the media is only going to make the girl in particulars's like harder...
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 30 Oct, 2004 12:37 am
Hi fattyb - hope to see you posting elsewhere here.

Er - I think we all have gotten over it by the way!
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australia
 
  1  
Reply Sun 5 Dec, 2004 06:40 am
I wonder how the kid went in his oral exams! I wish I had a teacher like that when I was at school.
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fattyb
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jul, 2005 01:29 am
australia wrote:
I wonder how the kid went in his oral exams! I wish I had a teacher like that when I was at school.

um... th ekid was a "she" not a "he"...
0 Replies
 
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jul, 2005 01:42 am
dlowan wrote:
Grrrrrrrrrrr.

I confess, in my experience these things DO get treated pretty lightly in education. I have personally known two teachers who set up house with underage students/lovers while actually still teaching them! No action was taken...


Not the current situation here in Victoria, Deb. The penalty for (often retrospective) misdemeanours are very tough indeed. On the odd occasion, there actually does appear to be discrimination against the teacher!
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jul, 2005 01:47 am
Interesting....I know what you mean - I think - do you mean sometimes false allegations are believed, and the teacher is guilty until proven innocent?

Yes - I can imagine that.

However, I personally know a number of teachers who have had flagrant affairs - and even lived with - students. While they taught them!
0 Replies
 
msolga
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jul, 2005 02:33 am
The Victorian government is now being ruthlessly strict about these issues, Deb. For example, there's a teacher around age 30, who has a police record for touching his 15 year old girlfriend's breasts (!) when he was about 20 ... He has had to resign or be sacked because it's on police records. There is no appeal at all possible. This teacher has an impeccable work & community record, his school community want him back, but no go ... There'll be a court appeal over this case soon, I believe.
0 Replies
 
Mirriwinni
 
  1  
Reply Sun 10 Jul, 2005 08:09 am
australia wrote:
I wonder how the kid went in his oral exams! I wish I had a teacher like that when I was at school.
Very Happy !!..straight over their heads...
Interesting to read the self-righteous post from the US, and then one far more rational from a student at the school involved.
Teachers in NSW have to attend Child Protection update courses regularly. I attended a full day course during the second last week of term, which included topics on how touching a child can be classed as battery, and the following week a fifteen year old female student who was leaving early for the holidays went round the classroom, said goodbye to her friends, came up to me, gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and said she hoped I had a nice holiday. There was about as much sexual content in that incident as being kissed by a fish,( with apologies to Rex Hunt)...but, had there been someone with an axe to grind present, a charge of battery or worse could have applied, and guilty untill proven innocent is the situation then.
Let's remember that the proportion of teachers who have offended in this way is very tiny.
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