Alleged sex acts between teacher and student lands in the Fono
Allegations surrounding a sexual relationship between a public high school teacher and a student, who is alleged to have tested positive for a sexually transmitted disease (STD), was the focus of a Senate Education Committee hearing on Tuesday.
Committee vice chairman Sen. Paepae Iosefa Faiai voiced his concern last week on the allegations as reported by Samoa News in May 2017 about the alleged relationship between a teacher and male students and thereafter, Committee chairman Sen. Fai’ivae Iuli A. Godinet called the hearing on Tuesday, where it was revealed the teacher has left the territory.
SAMOA NEWS STORY
A story in the Samoan language, published in the Lali section of Samoa News on May 18, 2017 quotes senior law enforcement officials saying that police officers were conducting an investigation against a teacher from a public high school regarding a sexual relationship with two male students, who are both minors — under 18 years old.
Samoa News received information during the early part of May about the alleged relationship between the teacher and the students, and police received a report about the allegations.
The students were tested at LBJ hospital and at least one student tested positive for an STD.
One senior police officer, who spoke to Samoa News on condition of anonymity, said police are trying to obtain a report from the hospital physician who conducted the test on the two students, as the report is crucial in continuing the investigation against the teacher.
The officer alleges that police are having trouble obtaining the physician’s report, and added that police are looking into local law, which requires “mandatory reporting” of such matters to authorities, to ensure that minors are protected from being victims of sexual assault.
At the time, Samoa News mentioned that the educator had only been identified by police as a “Fa’afafine teacher”.
In a follow up story about two weeks later, Samoa News reported that police were asking for the public’s help in getting more information on the case as they were still unable to get a report of the tests conducted by a physician at LBJ.
In both Lali stories, Samoa News didn’t identify the teacher, the students, the student who tested positive for a STD, and the high school by name.
An off island physician who had previously worked in American Samoa told Samoa News last month that federal law is clear when it comes to the protection of individuals' rights, particularly those who undergo any type of hospital test, as “results are confidential” and only the patient can authorize the release of information.
At Tuesday’s committee hearing, both Fai’ivae and Paepae identified the school as Leone High School and that the alleged incident involved one student and one teacher, whose identities were not revealed and remain unknown.
Both senators noted that the hearing was a result of a newspaper report, with Paepae saying that he had looked into this case.
Testifying during the committee hearing were Education Department deputy director Philo Jennings and Leone High School principal Mataua Aasa Matai.
Jennings was up front with the committee, sharing what he knows, so far.
He said it was early May this year, that he was informed about the matter — during a meeting with Education director Dr. Ruth Matagi-Tofiga and ASDOE deputy director Fa’aui Vaitautolu, who oversees all teachers. Matagi-Tofiga and Vaitautolu, are currently off island and therefore were unable to attend the hearing.
Jennings said that he was informed at the meeting that Matagi-Tofiga was contacted by a representative of a local group dealing with domestic violence about the matter and this was how ASDOE learned about it.
Thereafter, he said certain ASG offices, which have authority to conduct investigations — including the Department of Public Safety — were contacted. At this point, Jennings said, he doesn’t know the identity of the student, who is a minor — under 18 years old — and as of Tuesday’s hearing, ASDOE had not received a police report regarding any investigation into the allegations or any other information.
Matai informed senators that after she was contacted by the ASDOE main office about the case, she met three times with the teacher, who three times denied the allegations.
The LHS principal said the teacher maintains that the allegations by the student are not true, and added that this information was relayed to the ASDOE main office. Matai also told the committee that she doesn’t know the name of the student allegedly involved.
Based on the information he has received, Paepae said the student went to the hospital to get tested and the results came back positive for a STD, and the name of the teacher surfaced from there.
The senator didn’t identify the teacher by name, nor was there any mention during the hearing that the teacher allegedly involved is a “Fa’afafine teacher”.
While there are always “two sides of the story,” Paepae said he is saddened by these types of incidents where a student is affected and a teacher, who is suppose to look after the welfare of a child during school time, is involved.
He then asked if the teacher was tested for STDs, and Matai responded that she was told by the ASDOE office for the teacher to be tested. (It was not clear if ASDOE demanded or suggested the teacher be tested, and if he complied.)
Matai said the main office thereafter handled all information pertaining to this matter, with ASDOE deputy director Vaitautolu telling her that any inquiries on the matter be referred to her.
Both Matai and Jennings told the committee that they don’t have any other information on the matter.
Paepae said ASDOE should have contacted police right away about the case, as the teacher also has rights under the law.
He said he spoke last week with the Police Commissioner, who indicated that he was not given a report about this case.
“This is a very serious matter and we don’t know who is right,” Paepae said and recommended that when ASDOE conducts teacher orientation for the upcoming school year 2017-2018, the issue of relationships between teachers and students should be included in discussions.
The Alataua County senator said these types of relationships between teachers and students are not new as there was a recent case at another high school, probably last year, between a teacher and a female student.
Paepae reminded the ASDOE officials that parents place their trust in teachers and principals to ensure the safety of their children while at school. He said the committee will continue to seek more information on this serious matter.
He then asked if the teacher had resigned and Jennings responded that he has no information as all teachers are overseen by Vaitautolu.
Jennings said he agrees with the many concerns voiced by Paepae, adding that teacher orientation includes these types of issues.
He also said he will raise the issue with Matagi-Tofiga and Vaitautolu upon their return to the territory.
The committee plans to hold another hearing, with Matagi-Tofiga and Vaitautolu, when they return home. Vaitautolu is leading the ASDOE delegation to the Pacific Education Conference this week in Palau, while the Education director is attending a meeting off island.