Download PDF of the letter here: 141003-Open-Letter-to-Dr-Jim-Watterston-from-nathan-sutherland


 

3/10/2014

To Dr Jim Watterston,

I grew up as the oldest child in a family of eight children and by the age of ten, I’d decided I was
going to become a Primary School Teacher. I continued to follow this dream and graduated from
Deakin University (Burwood) in 1998. I began my teaching career the following year where I had
completed my final year of ‘teaching rounds’. In 2004 my wife (registered nurse) and I moved to the
Kimberley in WA to gain experience working in a remote area of Australia. While in WA I was
fortunate to receive recognition for my contribution to the profession, including a prize in the
Community PALS program for running a free, Sunday fitness and recreation program for children
(approx 120 participants each week) who could not access local sporting clubs and also a final place
in the Premier’s Teacher of the Year Award.

In 2011, my wife, our three young sons and I relocated to Kuranda, where I began teaching at
Kuranda District State College (KDSC).There I began to design, create and implement many extracurricular
activities and programs (Document 1) and become actively involved in the community. In
2013 I was nominated for Queensland’s Positive Teacher of the Year Awards. During 2013 however,
I unfortunately experienced several incidents of unprofessional conduct against children in my class
and myself. My allegations included bullying of, and inappropriate comments made to, students,
serious breaches of confidentiality, the inappropriate use of NAPLAN results and workplace bullying
against me (Document 2). These incidents caused me to take leave and seek medical assistance. I was
referred to a clinical psychologist and diagnosed with having severe levels of stress, depression and
anxiety.

Considering that my illness and absence from teaching were caused by actions of KDSC
administrators, an external Return to Work (RTW) coordinator was an obvious necessity. Both my
doctor and clinical psychologist agreed that this was necessary and requested that my RTW meetings
be attended by both my doctor and psychologist also. My medical certificates clearly stated that I
required the opportunity to resolve and discuss the concerns that contributed to my work related
stress before I was able to resume teaching.

Despite this, school principal, Gary Toshach, attempted to coordinate my RTW without addressing
any of the issues which had caused my illness. This RTW plan was devised without having received
a signed ‘Teacher Capabilities Checklist’ and my doctor refused to sign Gary Toshach’s ‘RTW Plan’
as he had not been consulted prior to this and did not agree with the plan Gary Toshach had
constructed. The KDSC administration was never issued a signed ‘Medical Authority Form’. This
action greatly exacerbated my mental health condition.

I was advised by Gary Toshach, that I was not entitled to an external RTW Coordinator until my
Work Cover claim was approved. Gary Toshach also informed me that, ‘The Work Cover and RTW
processes are completely separate from the employee complaint processes’. However, shortly after
this I received a letter dated 14 January from Kate Davey, Principal Human Resources Consultant,
FNQ regional office, which stated that my submission to Work Cover, which contained a number of
allegations of inappropriate conduct, had been referred to the Ethical Standard’s Unit (ESU) for
assessment. This “independent” assessment concluded that ‘the school administration had taken
reasonable management action’ and ‘no misconduct had occurred’. Therefore, I was not entitled to an
external RTW coordinator. I’d previously been informed by Linda Blue, KDSC Rehabilitation and
Return to Work Coordinator, Kylie Jones, Head of Junior School and subsequently by Garry
Hutchinson (Acting KDSC Principal) that I was entitled to an external RTW coordinator. All of my
requests for an external RTW coordinator were denied.

I requested both contact details for the ESU and details of their investigation, only to be informed by
Kate Davey that this was confidential information. The finding of the ESU investigation was
provided to Work Cover by EQ and Work Cover cited this ESU finding to reject my claim.
This ESU investigation was conducted during the Christmas holiday period. At no time was I
contacted during their investigation and none of the twelve witnesses I had included in my Work
Cover submission were contacted during this investigation. I am in possession of witness statements
and contact details of parents who describe incidents of bullying and inappropriate comments made
by a KDSC administrator to themselves and their children. The ‘Employer’s Response to Work
Cover’ which was submitted to the ESU, was not only riddled with spelling and grammatical errors,
it ignored and misrepresented claims I had made, blatantly ignored requests for important documents,
contained several glaring contradictions and included false and/or misleading statements.
Conclusions were drawn without consideration to these facts.

On 6 February I received another letter from Kate Davey stating that;

“A return to work plan was developed in consultation with you for the period 6 December 2013 to 13
December 2013 in line with your medical recommendations. This plan was negotiated between Gary
Toshach (Principal, Kuranda District State College), Linda Blue (Rehabilitation and Return to Work
Coordinator) and yourself, and was medically approved by Dr Lapenga.”

Not only did Kate Davey state the wrong date in this letter, she failed to acknowledge that Linda Blue
was not actually part of Gary Toshach’s negotiations and this plan was never medically approved by
my doctor. It was performed without a ‘Teacher Capabilities Checklist’ and without signed Medical
Authority. I raised these and other concerns in a letter to Deborah Dunstone, Regional Director, along
with a list of questions regarding how this situation had been handled.

Throughout this time I attempted to obtain documents which had contributed to my illness and
continued to request an external RTW coordinator. Records show that I had made clear to Gary
Toshach immediately before and after his unauthorised RTW plan was devised that I required an
external RTW coordinator. At no stage did a representative from EQ Regional Office phone to offer
advice or support to myself or my family. Having not received income since becoming ill, we were
experiencing both financial and emotional hardship, while at the same time trying to have the cause
of my leave properly addressed.

I fail to understand how it is that I was expected to return to teaching at KDSC without having the
opportunity to address all of the criticisms raised by the Head of Middle School, Shane Curley,
pertaining to my performance, sent to Gary Toshach in a lengthy email. This email was printed and
presented to me to read, by Gary Toshach, prior to my leave. I have continually requested a copy of
this document. Gary Toshach has denied knowledge of this document and denies ever showing it to
me. Current Acting Principal, Garry Hutchinson informed me he has received a copy of this email.
I formally requested ‘Leave without Pay’ for a period of 12 months to give me time to recover from
my illness and have the incidents, which caused my condition and subsequent leave from work,
appropriately dealt with. This request was denied.

After months of battling depression and continually having my requests denied and questions
ignored, I received a letter from Cathy Heffernan, Assistant Director General, dated 2 July
threatening to terminate my employment as a teacher. I responded to Cathy Heffernan’s letter
(Document 3) and posed an all too familiar list of questions which again were ignored.
My termination came in a most unusual and unprofessional manner. On Friday 8 August I received a
call from a KDSC parent who had had a phone conversation with an EQ employee at Head Office.
He stated that it was a matter of urgency that she implored me not to open any letter which had been
sent from EQ Head Office. I did not receive this letter. On Saturday 9 August I received a personal
text message from an EQ employee from Head Office asking permission for a more senior member
of EQ Head Office to call me right away. I was unable to speak at the time but responded by text to
suggest that Monday morning was a more appropriate time. I did not receive this phone call.
On Thursday 14 August I sent an email to Melanie Shuter, Human Resources Senior Advisor, asking
why I had not yet received a reply from Cathy Heffernan, considering it had been three weeks since I
had sent her my response. What then occurred sums up the unprofessional manner in which this
entire ordeal has been managed. At 10:49am I received an email to which was attached a signed
termination letter from Acting Assistant Director General, Duncan McKellar. At 11:19am I received
an email wishing to ‘recall’ my termination which I’d received at 10:49am. At 11:27am I received
yet another email, this time from a more senior EQ representative, asking that I ‘disregard and delete’
the termination letter I had received at 10:49am. Then at 12:02pm I received exactly the same
termination letter I had received at 10:49am from the EQ employee who’d sent me the ‘disregard and
delete’ message only 35 minutes earlier.

My termination letter was not only wrongly dated the 7 July (5 weeks prior to my official termination
date); it was wrongly addressed to a house in Gladstone. It was also marked ‘By Registered Post’
which I am still yet to receive. At this time Cathy Heffernan, Assistant Director General, was on
holiday.

I attended a Queensland Industrial Relations Commission conciliation conference on 17 September
after filing an application for reinstatement on 3 September. At this conference, an EQ representative
stated that concern about my ongoing medical condition was a reason why EQ refused to consider
my reinstatement. Considering my medical condition began whilst employed by EQ, I found this to
be unbelievably insensitive. EQ’s response to my application for reinstatement distorted several
aspects of my previous correspondence.

To settle this matter, EQ offered to record my termination as a resignation and provide a minimal
sum of money which would bind me to silence. I have neither the emotional strength, nor the
financial capability to continue the appeal against the decision to terminate my employment. It is on
moral grounds and principle that I have rejected EQ’s offer.

What concerns me most is that allegations of bullying by EQ employees against children, parents and
a colleague, accompanied by witness statements, can be so easily dismissed as ‘…reasonable
management action’. I cannot comprehend how the ESU can conclude that ‘no misconduct had
occurred’ without, at the very least, contacting witnesses or any persons of interest in this matter.
As you may be aware, many parents have chosen to remove their children from KDSC, with children
now commuting long distances to Cairns, Smithfield, Redlynch, Caravonica and Mareeba each day.
There are as many as 60 Kuranda children now attending just one particular school closer to Cairns
alone. Concerned Kuranda parents and community members have written many letters to EQ
administrators, only to have their questions and concerns repeatedly ignored.
I, like you, believe that ‘an accountability regime is about making sure that schools are focusing on
the things that matter and accepting accountability for their decisions’. All of my programs have been
designed and implemented with this ethos considered. Early in my career I learned that the more
parents are actively involved in a school, the stronger the school becomes. This is due to greater
accountability.

Your department has ended the career of a passionate, committed, hard working and caring teacher
and I am now receiving psychiatric treatment and have been prescribed medication for ongoing
chronic depression. This ordeal has caused an enormous amount of ongoing grief for my wife and our
three young children also. I hope no other EQ employee is ever exposed to such unfair, unreasonable
and unprofessional conduct.

Yours sincerely,

nathan: sutherland

 


 

Document 1


 

Extra-Curricular Programs and Activities

Program Description Approx. Hours
School Leadership Coordination of student council lunchtime meetings, working with school captains, attending leadership camp, following up matters from lunchtime meetings. 2-3 hrs/week
Bully Bustas Coordination of an anti-bullying program designed and implemented by students 2-3 hrs/week
Run Around Australia Morning fitness program involving students running laps of the school oval 3 mornings each week, with progress plotted on an Australian map. 6-7 hrs/week
Lunchtime Activities Regular lunchtime program involving children playing board games, cards and lateral and logic thinking puzzles. For 4 lunchtimes each week I have been required to remain in my Secondary Campus Classroom, as a group of 4-5 grade 6 children use our room as a ‘safe haven’ as they feel uncomfortable/unsafe in the school grounds with older teenagers. 3-4 hrs/week
Waste Management A program involving the primary campus students recycling/reducing/reusing food and general classroom waste. Our vegetable gardens are part of this program Ongoing
The K-Mag The ‘K-Mag’ is an 8 page student magazine published twice each term. We have published 12 editions in the last 2 years. This is a Student Council initiative. 6hrs/edition
Family Tuition Leading up to the 2013 NAPLAN assessment tasks, I ran 8 after school tuition sessions involving many parents, covering writing techniques, reading comprehension and numeracy. 16 hrs
School Assemblies Each Monday morning it is my responsibility to set up the undercover area for school assembly, including P.A. system, stage and seating. 1/2hr/week
Family Fun Night A one off night designed and implemented for families to participate in fun and challenging numeracy based challenges. Approx. 60 attendees. 20 hrs
Playground Line Marking Over Christmas and school holidays I spent many days painting several large areas of the school. This included 10 handball courts and a large chess board. 60-70 hrs
Art Competition Coordination of whole school art competition, including promotion, collection, judging, prize purchase and returning art pieces. 4 hrs
The Mad Minute A program to enhance students’ ‘Instant recall of Number Facts’ which I have designed, created and introduced throughout the school. This involves the 4 processes and concludes each year with a whole school competition. Ongoing
Tennis Coaching Each Friday after school I coach tennis for 15-20 students free of charge. 2hrs/week
Cricket Coaching Each Saturday morning from 8am, I run a cricket clinic at the local recreation reserve for 5-10 year olds free of charge. 2hrs/week
Chess Competition An annual competition tied in with lunchtime activities where results are recorded and children advance through to finals to find the school’s Chess Champion 1hr/week
School Discos From the beginning of 2012 I have coordinated 5 school discos raising approximately $5000 for Student Council. 30-40hrs
Wed Parent Activities An open classroom initiative involving many parents and grandparents working with children for 1-2 hrs/week, gardening, cooking and solving logic and lateral puzzles. 1-2 hr/week to set up/source ingredients@ a cost to me of $20-$30 each session.

 


Document 2


 

During 2013 I was required to participate in a Suitability Interview to be eligible to gain permanent
status with the Education Department. The expected representatives from FNQ Regional Office
failed to attend this meeting as expected so it was conducted by Gary Toshach (Principal) and
Lexelle Bray (Acting Head of Junior School). Despite being judged and recorded as an ‘Outstanding
Applicant’, Lexelle Bray returned from this interview to allegedly inform Michael Cavinaugh
(Acting Head of Curriculum) that I had performed poorly. Michael Cavinaugh then disclosed this
alleged information to at least one other teacher, who allegedly called my room after school that day
to allege that Michael Cavinaugh had freely passed on confidential information which Lexelle Bray
had allegedly disclosed. This colleague had also sat a suitability interview that morning and Michael
Cavinaugh alleged that Lexelle Bray told him, “The one we thought would stuff up did well and the
one we thought would do well did shit”.

On Tuesday 15 October, mid way through a C2C maths lesson, Shane Curley (Head of Middle
School) entered our classroom and allegedly began yelling at my students for not attending the
controversial LOTE program. He then allegedly went into a rant about my teaching philosophy,
mistakenly believing that was what we were engaged in at the time. I had no prior knowledge of
Shane Curley’s grief and at no stage during the time he spent yelling at the class did he address me,
look at me or explain his presence in our classroom.

Days later our class was reading through an email we had received from a classmate who was
spending 7 months in India. She had sent through several photos and a short note about each one.
Shane Curley allegedly entered our room to interrupt, asking “What’s this?” I explained that it was an
email from (student’s name) and he then allegedly said, “What’s this got to do with the C2C?”
Although this was not part of our “prescribed” C2C curriculum, it was a valuable learning experience
too good to miss. There are many opportunities to engage and educate children outside the C2C
curriculum.

On Wednesday 23 October, Shane Curley allegedly stated in the presence of several staff members
that our valued Wednesday Parent Program was ‘nothing but a time wasting exercise’. I believe this
comment was made in frustration after I and many other teachers had questioned the validity and
value of Shane Curley’s suggestion that to save time teachers could write “generic” Individual
Learning Plans for students. Shane had also allegedly made several negative comments about our
Wednesday Parent Program prior to this and it was clear to me that he wished for the popular
program to cease.

In the months leading up to this time, Shane Curley and Michael Cavinaugh had allegedly made
derogatory comments about my teaching practice and programs. These comments had allegedly been
made both privately to me and in front of students. Despite allegedly sending several letters of
complaint to Gary Toshach regarding my performance at this time, Shane Curley never formally
raised any concerns with me about my teaching practice or programs. I was fulfilling all of my
obligations in implementing the C2C National Curriculum and regularly submitting all student
results.

On Friday 25 October I met with Gary Toshach to discuss the negative reactions, in the form of
protest emails, from many parents regarding the cancellation of the successful and popular
Wednesday Parent Program. During that meeting Gary Toshach asked me to send an email from his
computer to parents asking them to refrain from sending any more emotive emails and informing
them that a meeting to discuss the future of the Wednesday Parent Program was to be conducted the
following Monday between himself, Shane Curley and me.

At this meeting Gary Toshach presented me with a lengthy email he had received from Shane Curley
which detailed many issues Shane had with my teaching practice and performance. This was
surprising considering that only weeks prior to this Shane Curley stated in a private meeting that he
was pleased with my performance and that “…there is nothing I can suggest to you to improve your
performance”. I believe that this letter was a ‘knee jerk’ reaction to the many negative emails Shane
Curley had received from parents after the cancellation of the Wednesday Parent Program. Gary
Toshach has since denied any memory of this email which he received from Shane Curley and all
attempts I have made to gain a copy of this have been rejected. Garry Hutchinson (Acting Principal)
has confirmed the existence of this email and informed me that he has obtained a copy.
On Monday 28 October Gary Toshach and Shane Curley visited my classroom as planned. At the
beginning of this meeting I was presented with a one page sheet of generated progress NAPLAN data
which compared the ‘progress’ of students at KDSC. Gary Toshach allegedly stated that the students
from a colleague’s class had outperformed my students in two of the five NAPLAN tests. I am still
unable to comprehend why this progress NAPLAN data was allegedly presented in such an
inappropriate way at this meeting, which was arranged to discuss the Wednesday Parent Program.
Our highly valued Wednesday Parent Program had no impact what so ever on the NAPLAN test
results and the actual ‘achievement’ results of the two classes were vastly different. The students in
my class gained outstanding NAPLAN results, above the national average in all areas. The students
Gary Toshach allegedly compared mine to were, on average, below the national average. The
NAPLAN tests were conducted in May and our Wednesday Parent Program began in July. The
NAPLAN test results had nothing to do with the purpose of this meeting; being the fate of our
Wednesday Parent Program. My students’ NAPLAN results were results Gary Toshach and Shane
Curley should have been proud of, not allegedly use in such a bizarre and inappropriate manner.
During this meeting Shane Curley allegedly stated, “I am sick of having to deal with complaints from
other teachers about your programs”. He allegedly complained about several aspects of our program
and my teaching practice, including taking the class out for morning fitness, despite never having
addressed any of these issues in an appropriate or formal manner with me privately. It is my belief
that all of the programs I conducted helped to promote students’ results and their enjoyment of
school.

At this time, the possibility exists that some of the alleged actions undertaken by Gary Toshach were
due to the huge amount of pressure he was under after allegedly prematurely announcing to the
school community that the death of a student came as a result of suicide before the inquest had
concluded. This announcement was by way of letters sent home with children and by personally
visiting classrooms to inform students. The deceased student’s family and much of the Kuranda
community were outraged by the handling of this matter and many parents responded angrily.
On Tuesday 29 October I was allegedly informed by a parent that Michael Cavinaugh had allegedly
attempted to put a negative spin on my students NAPLAN results in a conversation with her,
suggesting she look at ‘progress’ data instead of actual achievement results. It’s important to
understand that when students perform highly in consecutive NAPLAN tests, the value of progress
data is both limited and deceiving. Later that same day Michael Cavinaugh allegedly entered our
classroom unexpectedly during class time and allegedly began telling children that their results
weren’t as good as they thought, suggesting that they had made little progress. He allegedly told one
student that he “…hadn’t improved in maths in 3 years”. This particular child has achieved
outstanding results, placing him in the top 10%, nationwide. He also allegedly criticised several
children about the number of days they had absent. I am still uncertain of the purpose of this alleged
interruption and reason he allegedly attempted to belittle the children and their results at this time. In
the recent past Michael Cavinaugh has allegedly had formal complaints lodged against him for
inappropriate comments and bullying behaviours. Michael Cavinaugh was allegedly asked to
apologise to a parent by Gary Toshach, after making inappropriate comments to her. This parent
informed me that, “…there were 2 separate incidents of inappropriate things Micheal said to me that I put in a complaint to Gary Toshach about. I also know other parents and staff members that have had issues with him. I am more than happy to confirm this”.


 

 

Document 3      


25/7/2014

Dear Cathy Heffernan,

Since taking leave I have continually requested an external return to work coordinator. Garry
Hutchinson, Principal, Kuranda State College, informed me that I was entitled to an external return to
work coordinator, yet despite several requests, I have continually been denied this right. Considering
it was the inappropriate and unprofessional actions of school administrators which caused my illness
and subsequent leave, it is unreasonable to expect me to accept one of those administrators to
coordinate my return to work.

On 29/11/2013, Gary Toshach, principal, inappropriately attempted to coordinate my return to work.
My medical certificate at this time clearly stated that I had no capacity for any type of work and it
also stated that a return to work plan would require a meeting attended by a return to work
coordinator, clinical psychologist and GP. I had not accepted Linda Blue as my return to work
coordinator and she had informed me that I was entitled to an external return to work coordinator.
Gary Toshach’s meeting was not attended by my GP or psychologist and meeting minutes show that
Linda Blue left this meeting before any return to work plan was discussed. My doctor’s
recommendations, as stated on my medical certificate, were not considered by Gary Toshach prior to
this meeting.

I had not signed a Medical Authority Form prior to this meeting, yet my GP was contacted by Gary
Toshach and Linda Blue after this meeting, without my consent. I believe that Gary Toshach’s
inappropriate attempt to coordinate my return to work was to avoid an external coordinator being
made aware of the incidents which caused my leave.

Prior to taking leave, I was presented with a letter by Gary Toshach, written by Shane Curley, Deputy
Principal, which detailed a long list of issues he had with my performance. This list came as a
surprise to me as at no time prior to this had any of these issues been formally raised with me. Only
weeks earlier, during my performance management meeting, Shane Curley stated that there was
nothing he could suggest to me to improve my performance.

The opportunity to properly analyse this list of issues Shane Curley sent is an important and obvious
aspect of my successful return to work. However, despite several requests to obtain a copy of this
document, there has been a great reluctance from those involved to provide me with a copy of this. In
an email I received from Gary Toshach, he denied showing me this letter and stated that he was
unaware that it existed. Current Principal, Garry Hutchinson has since informed me by email that he
has obtained a copy of this letter, yet has refused to provide me with a copy. It is my belief that this
letter contains false and slanderous claims.

The incidents and events causing my illness and subsequent leave include breaches of confidentiality,
bullying by an administrator against students, workplace bullying against me, unprofessional conduct
by my line manager and inappropriate manipulation and use of NAPLAN results. These incidents and
events have been continually ignored or dismissed.

Can you please investigate and answer the following?

1. Why have I been denied an external Return to Work Coordinator?

2. Why has Gary Toshach’s inappropriate attempt to coordinate my return to work not been properly
investigated?

3. Why has the unauthorised contact of my medical practitioners been ignored?

4. Why am I being denied a copy of Shane Curley’s list of issues as part of my Return to Work
process?

5. Why has my request for leave (other than sick leave) been denied?

My successful return to work has been hindered by the inappropriate actions of others and other
details listed here. If you would like details of the inappropriate conduct which led to my illness and
subsequent leave, please let me know. I hope you can assist in resolving these issues.

Kind regards,

nathan: sutherland.