- The Teaching Council’s Disciplinary Tribunal has chosen to name a teacher accused of having sex with a student, after the case against him collapsed in a “double jeopardy” legal fight.
- The Council took Alvin Rolfe, who has taught in high schools in both North and South Islands for decades, to the tribunal after complaints that he sexually pursued three of his students at Morrinsville College in the 1990s.
- The case was thrown out in May 2022, on evidence a letter from the Teaching Council had been sent to Rolfe in 2004, telling him he would not be investigated further. Rolfe’s lawyer claimed “double jeopardy”, which was accepted by the Tribunal.
- Former student Tammy Valler first complained about Rolfe in 1996, but the case was not pursued, despite evidence from a Morrinsville College investigation carried out by retired judge Dame Augusta Wallace being sent to the Council’s predecessor, the Teachers Registration Board. Valler filed a second complaint in 2020.
- Valler says the decision to name Alvin Rolfe has “restored my faith in humanity slightly” after a 25-year fight for accountability.
Tammy Valler’s quest to name the teacher she says groomed her for sex at Morrinsville College in the 1990s is over – but at a cost.
When the Teaching Council’s Disciplinary Tribunal threw out her case against Alvin Rolfe in May, Valler says she broke emotionally.
“That decision was so traumatic I had to take two months off work. If I was suicidal it would have tipped me over the edge – I just couldn’t function.”
That decision – based on a “double jeopardy” argument by Rolfe’s lawyer – found a letter was sent to Rolfe by the NZTC in 2004, promising him he would not be investigated further. This month the Tribunal allowed Rolfe’s name to be made public despite the collapse of the case.
Valler has fought to bring her former maths teacher to justice through the Teaching Council since first laying a complaint in 1996. It’s been a long and excruciating process – the original complaint went nowhere despite a recommendation by retired judge Dame Augusta Wallace that further steps should be taken against Rolfe.
Stuff made multiple attempts to contact Alvin Rolfe at his Christchurch home, but received no reply.
Valler says she was 17 when Rolfe began grooming her by writing personal notes and poetry, later bringing her to a private room next to his classroom, where he would massage her shoulders and touch her breasts while she studied, she claims.
She says Rolfe convinced her to have sex with him on two occasions, once when they were both on an overseas school trip. Two more complaints were made to the school in 1996, from students claiming Rolfe had also pursued them sexually at Morrinsville College.
Those students – whose names are suppressed – claimed the teacher invited one to an overnight stay at an Auckland hotel, and tried to kiss the other.
Alvin Rolfe has long used lawyers to try to escape scrutiny for Valler’s claims. After asking Dame Augusta to investigate the complaint, Morrinsville College’s board of trustees tried to hold a formal disciplinary hearing in 1996, but Rolfe claimed through his lawyer for six months that he was too sick to attend.
He resigned at the end of that year and left the school without facing a formal inquiry. Wallace’s report, which said there was “sufficient evidence to require further investigation of the complaint” and that “further steps should be taken”, was sent to the Council’s predecessor, the Teachers Registration Board (TRB).
Minutes from the TRB monthly meetings, obtained under the Official Information Act, show the case lay “on the table” for four months in early 1997 as lawyers and the education ministry were consulted. In May 1997, the matter was closed. A final note in the meeting’s minutes tables a letter from the teacher’s “attorney”, and instructs a letter to be sent to the teacher and the school, saying there was “insufficient information available to the board to determine whether or not registration should be cancelled” .
Valler says she buried the trauma for decades, until she sought counseling in recent years. She laid a fresh complaint in 2020, and was told by the NZTC that she had lost and probably destroyed her file. That file was discovered by chance months later, and a two-year investigation was carried out by the Complaints Assessment Committee (CAC).
Stuff understands lawyers for the CAC fought for the Disciplinary Tribunal hearing to go ahead. One legal hurdle was cleared – the Tribunal found Rolfe’s claim the 23-year delay was prejudicial was unfounded, thanks to Valler’s original complaint, and a large amount of witness evidence still existed. But the tribunal accepted Rolfe’s claim that the 2004 letter meant the hearing could not go ahead.
The “lost” file issue remains a thorn in Valler’s side.
“If the file was lost, who’s to say they were operating on full knowledge of my case when they sent that letter [in 2004]? That hasn’t been addressed.” She also has questions about the double jeopardy decision, having been told the case would be “chucked out” if the CAC were to appeal.
“Something is wrong that this man can get off on these technicalities.”
All along, Valler has refused to keep her name secret and says Rolfe’s attempts to gain permanent name suppression for himself, has caused her deep distress – and put other students’ safety at risk. Although Rolfe – who is now in his 70s – is currently not teaching, he has told the Teaching Council that he intends to continue working in the education sector.
In the years since Tammy Valler’s first complaint, Rolfe has taught at Hamilton Boys’ High and Hagley Community College (now Hagley College), a co-educational high school. He taught maths at Riccarton High in Christchurch as recently as 2016.
Valler says she has long been worried about the safety of those students and says mistakes made by the teaching oversight bodies in her case, over a quarter of a century, put them in harm’s way.
“Who else has been harmed as he taught for all those years? The risk to students is enormous,” she said.
Teaching Council chief executive Lesley Hoskin has repeatedly refused Stuff‘s request for an interview about Tammy Valler’s case, since 2020. The Teaching Council this week said it could not answer specific questions about the case because the Disciplinary Tribunal was an independent quasi-judicial body.
But in a statement, the council said changes to the education law over the years had made its processes more robust.
“The functions and powers of the Teaching Council today are vastly different from those of our predecessors,” the statement said. Those included a Code of Ethics introduced in 2004 (now replaced by the Code of Professional Responsibility), which allows the Council to investigate alleged breaches.
“Also significant is the addition of the monitoring and enforcement of requirements relating to mandatory reporting in July of 2015,” the statement reads. Schools are now required to report teachers believed to have engaged in serious misconduct.
They also must report if a teacher has resigned within 12 months of receiving a complaint about their conduct or competence – a rule that would have applied to Alvin Rolfe, had it been in place in the 1990s.
“We are confident that the changes in law over the years and those made throughout our conduct and competence rule review mean that a situation similar to Mr. Rolfe’s (no investigation at the time of the original complaint) would not occur today,” the council said .
Delays in the disciplinary process – experienced by Valler after she laid her 2020 complaint – were being addressed and changes would be “rolled out over the coming year”.
Valler said she understood investigations took time, but the delay between the stay hearing on the double jeopardy argument in March, and the final release of the tribunal’s decision this month, had been excruciating.
“My life has been in limbo waiting for that, how can they defend that? It wasn’t just a few months, it was almost a year.”
Although disappointed her case has never been resolved, Valler says the decision to name Alvin Rolfe has made a difference.
“I was ready to deal with it, and have been waiting for other people to deal with it. They wouldn’t have known any of this if it wasn’t for me. But I can finally move on.”