‘Very distressing’: Illawarra teacher has assault charge dismissed

An Illawarra Sports High teacher accused of assaulting a student has been cleared of any wrongdoing, with the case dismissed in court on Monday morning.

Despina Haise, a teacher for more than 30 years, welcomed the decision outside Wollongong Local Court a short time ago. 

“It’s [been] very distressing for me,” she said. 

“I’m definitely relieved. It’s been a long, long haul and it’s taken it’s toll.”

Police charged Haise with common assault after a student claimed the music teacher had grabbed her around the throat while directing her and a friend away from an out-of-bounds area of the school grounds on May 27, 2016. 

Under cross examination the girl, who cannot be named for legal reasons, denied she was exaggerating when she described Haise grabbing her jacket with one hand and her bare throat with the other. 

Teacher Despina Haise (centre) outside Wollongong court on Monday.

Teacher Despina Haise (centre) outside Wollongong court on Monday.

But the girl’s friend had ultimately failed to corroborate her account, Haise lawyer, Miranda Moody, noted as the hearing resumed on Monday. 

“[The friend] says Ms Haise pulled the complainant by the jacket to stop her moving. She agreed that … they were being disobedient. She never, when it was directly put to her, saw Ms Haise hold the complainant up against the wall with a hand around her throat,”  she said, urging Magistrate Chris McRobert to dismiss the charge. 

“She would be an extremely reliable witness, given her proximity to the situation.”

Magistrate McRobert found the “small force” Haise exerted on the girl, by pulling her jacket, may partially account for a red mark later seen on the girl’s neck/chest area. 

“I would suspect at least some of the force was exerted by (the girl) herself pulling against or resisting the actions of the teacher, he said. 

The magistrate said Haise had ultimately acted within her rights as a teacher. 

“To my mind it is important for teachers to demonstrate that there are consequences for breaching the rules,” he said. 

“Ms Haise was entitled to stop [the girl] to speak to her about her breach of the school disciplinary rules and she did so by taking the only course effectively available to her, that is, taking hold of [her] clothing – not her person. I’m not satisfied for a minute that there was any direct contact with her skin. Taking hold of her clothing was the only way she could stop her because [the girl] had continued to walk away.

“Whist with the wisdom of hindsight things might have handled differently or better, I’m of the view that Ms Haise was acting within the lawful rights of a teacher to discipline students at the school at which she is employed both as a teacher and to enforce school rules.

“To my mind her actions at worst might be seen as ill-advised, but I’m not of the view that they amount to an assault.” 

Outside court, Haise said she intended to continue teaching.

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