A rude Facebook comment, combined with some other inappropriate classroom conduct, nearly cost a Queensland, Australia teacher his license this spring. In the end, however, the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal determined that Dion Ashley Paulsen had taken sufficient steps to reform his behavior and allowed him to continue teaching.
Paulsen, who teaches in the city of Toowoomba (about 75 miles west of Brisbane), allegedly committed a series of infractions over a period ranging from 2006 to 2012. The bulk involved offensive and upsetting behavior towards students in his classroom. On a couple of occasions, he reportedly struck and pushed students; another reported being called a “mummy’s boy” by Paulsen during a lesson. In an attempt to apologize to the latter victim, the Tribunal found that Paulsen made an inappropriate personal statement:
I’m sorry that I got mad — it was only because my contract was not extended and I have nowhere to go. I only have a $1,000 Ute, a tent, and swag. I’m basically fucked. I’ve got no job, no money, no family, and nowhere to go.
The most damaging claim (and the one that apparently triggered the effort of the Queensland College of Teachers to pull his license) was a statement that Paulsen made in September 2012 to a Year 12 student with whom he was Facebook friends. The student posted a new profile picture and Paulsen sent him a direct message that read “Just blew my load … thanks”. In subsequent messages, Paulsen tried to explain that he was making a joke, but the student did not find it funny and blocked Paulsen. He also reported the exchange to the school administration.
After reviewing the varying degrees of credibility for the charges against Paulsen, the QCAT concluded that he had “not always maintained professional standards” and that he “failed to maintain professional boundaries.”
“He should not have conducted a Facebook friendship with a student,” the QCAT noted, “let alone made a sexual comment.”
The Queensland College of Teachers asked the Tribunal to suspend Paulsen’s registration for six months, with the ruling itself being suspended for 18 months pending Paulsen’s good behavior. Paulsen objected to the suspension, arguing that a warning or reprimand was sufficient. Among other things, he told the QCAT that since the start of the disciplinary proceedings, he successfully completed a course entitled “Safe Professional Boundaries: Holding the Line.” He was also required by the Queensland Education Department to “re-familiarise himself with the Code of Conduct for the Queensland Public Service and the Department’s Standard of Practice.”
The Tribunal concluded that the rehabilitative steps taken by Paulsen were sufficient to minimize the risk of re-offense. As a result, the QCAT concluded that “[t]he objects of the EQCT [Education (Queensland College of Teachers)] Act are adequately met by reprimanding Mr Paulsen.”