Principal accused of ‘destroying’ young teachers

 

A QUEENSLAND school principal has sensationally been accused in court documents of lying in order to deny "problem children" access to her public school, and has been slammed by her peers as a bully who "destroyed" young teachers.

The scathing allegations have become public in the ­extraordinary fallout from the death of a much-loved teacher.

Sunshine Beach State School principal Jennifer Easey leaves her home on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: John Gass
Sunshine Beach State School principal Jennifer Easey leaves her home on the Sunshine Coast. Picture: John Gass

Jennifer Easey, principal of Sunshine Beach State School (SBSS), was described as "unethical" and "a bully" by fellow teachers and school leaders, who were interviewed as part of an independent investigation by a law firm into 14 "very serious" allegations of "inappropriate" workplace behaviour.

The investigation was triggered by a formal complaint lodged with ethical standards following the suicide of teacher Adam Bruin, aged 37, in November 2017.

It includes an allegation that Ms Easey "humiliated and offended" Mr Bruin when she "laughed in" his face when he reported that his neurosurgeon said he would be back to work a few months" after brain surgery in 2014, a claim she denied.

Adam Bruin was a much-loved Sunshine Coast teacher who committed suicide in November 2017 aged 37.
Adam Bruin was a much-loved Sunshine Coast teacher who committed suicide in November 2017 aged 37.

In the transcript of her interview with the investigators, which also forms part of the court file, Ms Easey vehemently denies that she bullied the teacher.

According to the court documents, she said Mr Bruin was "a sick man" with mental-health problems who was going through a messy family break-up in the wake of his brain surgery.

The lengthy and complex internal education department investigation into Ms Easey's management style has exposed deep divisions within the tight-knit school and community of picturesque Sunshine Beach, north of Brisbane.

A deputy principal from a nearby school, Rick Cass, claimed to investigators that Ms Easey had bullied his friend and former colleague Mr Bruin, and had also "destroyed" another "brilliant and beautiful" female teacher at the school, which has 800 students enrolled.

Sunshine Coast deputy principal Rick Cass claimed to investigators Jennifer Easey had bullied teacher Adam Bruin.
Sunshine Coast deputy principal Rick Cass claimed to investigators Jennifer Easey had bullied teacher Adam Bruin.

Mr Cass said "he's had parents crying in his office" after Ms Easey "told one kid that he couldn't come back to" SBSS, even though local children cannot be forced to attend schools out of the area.

"She says classes are full when she doesn't want a problem child to come to SBSS but then makes room if the kid is a good kid," Mr Cass said, in court documents.

"She just lies … and people are scared of her," Mr Cass said, adding that her "professional integrity" was "appalling".

"Jenny is not held in high regard among other principals."

Extract from a transcript of interview with Jennifer Easey

Mr Cass compared Ms Easey's conduct toward Mr Bruin to "what happened with Paula Passi", a Burpengary principal who was accused of bullying teacher Gavin Woods before he committed suicide in 2011.

A coronial hearing cleared Ms Passi of responsibility for Mr Woods' death.

Ms Easey is not under investigation in any way for Mr Bruin's death.

Mr Cass's explosive comments and 14 other interviews were filed in the Supreme Court in Brisbane as part of 2000 pages of evidence, after Ms Easey applied to block the department's bid to force her to do online refresher courses, claiming it would leave a black mark on her record and could hamper any future promotions.

She says in court documents that she has not been found guilty of any of the alleged misconduct and no adverse findings have been made against her.

However the 247-page investigation report found she "seriously breached her obligations to demonstrate a high standard of workplace behaviour" after she allegedly failed to support Mr Bruin, a father of two.

Sunshine Beach State School principal Jennifer Easey. Picture: John Gass
Sunshine Beach State School principal Jennifer Easey. Picture: John Gass

She is also alleged to have "inappropriately" overturned a decision allowing another senior teacher to act as Mr Bruin's return to work co-ordinator (RWC) and rehabilitation officer, and allegedly had a conflict of interest in appointing herself to the role as Mr Bruin's RWC, court documents state.

In February Ms Easey quit her role as RWC co-ordinator.

Sunshine Beach State High School teacher Jo-Anne Kearney, who used to work with Ms Easey, cried during her interview and said the school environment under Ms Easey was "toxic" and "fractured" as Ms Easey could be a "bully".

"Instead of being about the kids at the school and the teachers at the school, it was about numbers coming in, because Jenny's job depended on it. So if we don't have certain numbers. she'd have to take a pay cut," she said.

"Adam said … she doesn't have human empathy," Ms Kearney told investigators, adding that "Jenny's just very cold".

Extract from a transcript of interview with Rick Cass

Ms Kearney said many teachers were leaving the industry due to mental-health problems.

"People are dropping like flies," she said.

Year 4 teacher Melody Madin told the investigation that Mr Bruin told her Ms Easey ran a "dictatorship".

Karey Goodall, now deputy principal at Sunshine Beach State High School, told investigators that Ms Easey had "fractured" and "strained" relationships with some teachers, who felt they could not talk to her.

Ms Goodall told investigators that Mr Bruin was "one of those teachers that all the parents wanted their kid in his class".

In her eight-hour interview with investigators, Ms Easey denied accusations that she told Mr

Bruin that "nobody likes you or wants you here" at the school and that staff thought he'd done a bad job.

"I strongly refute the claim that I berated and ripped into Adam," she said.

"I was there to support him. I loved him dearly."

In response to suggestions by the investigator that Mr Bruin feared Ms Easey, she said: "It didn't appear like that and I would say that we had a good relationship."

She denies Mr Bruin's claims - found in notes made before he died - that she spent budget money earmarked for his students with disabilities on her pet project, which he suggested was recruiting new students to boost the enrolments.

No date has been set for a hearing.

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