The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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San Andrea school inquiry concludes, 'finds historical culture of bullying among former staff'

Sabrina Zammit Wednesday, 7 June 2023, 11:01 Last update: about 2 years ago

An independent inquiry into allegations of wrongdoing at the San Andrea School concluded that several claims made by a former assistant head were unsubstantiated, and singled out school top management for failing to take disciplinary action in numerous situations, a statement by the school read.

The inquiry was commissioned by the San Andrea school board in response to former assistant head Trevor Templeman's serious allegations of fraud, financial mismanagement, and other wrongdoing within the institution.

The inquiry was conducted by Judge David Scicluna at the request of the school board. The inquiring judge also found a historical culture of bullying and arrogance among the school's former staff, a statement by the board read.

The judge "pointed to a historical pervasive attitude of bullying and arrogance, and warned that 'a school cannot be run as a fiefdom'."

The school released a press release about the findings of the inquiry, but did not release the inquiry report itself.

The inquiry, which involved testimony from 65 witnesses and a thorough review of documents, provides 30 key recommendations designed to promote accountability and enhance governance within San Andrea School, the school said. "The recommendations urge the dissemination of policies covering bullying, whistleblowing, child protection, and the use of social media; enhanced communication; to have standard operating procedures and procurement policies in place; and to build on the school's core values of reason, respect, responsibility, among others."

Additionally, the report underscores the significance of accurate registration and issuance of receipts for major donations, as well as maintaining transparent communication with donors regarding the utilization of their contributions, it said.

Simultaneously, the fact-finding exercise conducted by PWC as part of the investigation into alleged financial fraud raised by Templeman has reached its initial phase, the school said. While the report confirmed, prima facie, that the funds in question were legitimately used for the construction of a multipurpose hall and extensive refurbishments, it also identified inconsistencies and red flags regarding past cases of financial mismanagement, the school added. "The school will be delving deeper into the matter to ensure proper structures are in place and to determine if there is scope for legal action.."

The findings from both reports will be shared with the school's staff and parents in the coming days, ahead of an information meeting, the school said.

Acknowledging the challenging period, the school board stated: "These past months have been a painful journey for all those who have the school's best interests at heart. It has also been a crucial learning curve, and we are now focusing all our attention to ensure that together with the educators, staff, and parents, we can rebuild trust and implement the necessary changes."

To facilitate the required reforms, the school has established an independent Strategic Review Committee and has commenced the implementation of appropriate structures and procedures for proper governance, it said. Furthermore, an audit sub-committee has been formed to ensure transparency, accountability, and good governance within the institution, it added.

"The inquiring judge unequivocally stated that whoever loves the school does not entertain and spread unsubstantiated allegations, no matter how serious they may be, 'particularly if based only on hearsay evidence and not direct proof'. He said that while the School Board had been doing its utmost to act responsibly and investigate all the allegations, some were more 'intent on spreading still unsubstantiated allegations which could not only tarnish the reputation of individuals but, even if unwittingly, that of the school... educators, staff, parents and ultimately the children'," the school said.

Since the initial allegations which surfaced, significant developments have taken place, including the resignations of assistant head Trevor Templeman and school head Stefania Bartolo, as well as the suspension of assistant head Ruth Azzopardi.

Reacting to the conclusions of the inquiry, the current school board expressed their gratitude, stating, "This entire process has been an eye-opener, where these situations threatened the very essence of our school. It is thanks to the commitment of our exceptional teachers and dedicated parents that San Andrea remains one of the most esteemed schools on the island."

Timeline of Events and Key Findings:

The inquiry highlighted two separate cases involving assistant head Trevor Templeman, which the school board treated as distinct issues despite Templeman's attempt to merge them, it said. One case involved criminal proceedings of cyberbullying filed against Templeman by a parent over an Instagram post, while the other was Templeman's public allegations of fraud, financial mismanagement, and other wrongdoing.

According to the judge's findings, the school board became aware of the criminal proceedings only after being contacted by parents. In July 2022, the board requested an update on the case from Templeman, who responded that the case had been postponed to March 2023. Templeman believed that he did not need to inform the board as he had discussed the police questioning with the former school head, Stefania Bartolo. "However, in the inquiring judge's opinion 'such misconceptions does not do away with a duty to disclose'," the statement read.

"In August 2022, the board decided to reassign Templeman to other duties as an Interim Coordinator as a precaution, and moved him to another office within the Multipurpose Hall. Templeman lamented through his lawyer that this change of role was not acceptable as it went contrary to his contract of employment and was not compatible with his role as assistant head. It was pointed out that Templeman's employment contract states specifically that the employee was bound to perform 'any other duties which from time to time may be delegated by the Head of School'," the statement read.

At no point did Templeman transfer to the Multipurpose Hall, it continued. "He was given a final notice on August 26, 2022 and a written warning on September 2, 2022, which he contested."

"The judge observed that the reassignment of duties would 'undoubtedly have come as a shock to Templeman', particularly in view of the original stance taken by the school head in February 2022 when it dismissed any ownership of the situation. But this does not mean that the School Board's admittedly late decision to transfer him was incorrect. It must be said that the School Board did not take the more extreme measure of suspending Templeman. However, until the court case was decided, he was not to have contact with children and had to move to a different office. This move never came about - Templeman went on sick leave from August 30 to September 2, 2022, and then from September 7, until his resignation on October 14, 2022."

Concurrently, another event was playing out before the June 1, 2022 allegations, the statement read - "the judge paints a picture of a clique of people where familiarity reigned between Templeman, Bartolo, assistant head Ruth Azzopardi, and past board chairman Kevin Spiteri, whose company KJM Enterprise carried out the extensive works on the Multipurpose Hall and refurbishment works. This 'very close relationship saw them eating out together regularly, going on boat trips and at a point in 2022 even starting to organise a trip to Sicily'. Templeman was considered to be Bartolo's right-hand man, and Bartolo herself says she used to refer to him as 'Trevor the Treasure'," the statement read.

However, dynamics changed when Bartolo encouraged Templeman to apply for the post of Early/Middle school head, which would have required him to change offices. Witnesses testified that Templeman's attitude toward Bartolo shifted from admiration to hostility, it read.

On June 1, 2022, Templeman approached then School Board chairman Alex Tortell with a series of allegations, the statement read.

Although the School Board clearly worked to keep the two cases separate, the judge notes that Templeman "lumped everything together" claiming his transfer was a result of the June 1 allegations, the statement read. "The judge adds: 'It cannot be said that [Templeman's] change of role, title and office could be a form of persecution and intimidation... the School Board was carrying out its duty.'

Following a June 1 2022 meeting, the School Board repeatedly requested Templeman to submit his allegations in writing, which he ignored until September 2022. During the meeting, Templeman made various allegations, including claims that former chairman Kevin Spiteri had misappropriated €200,000 from the school, and that the former school administrator had got to know what Spiteri was doing and Spiteri gave him €25,000 to keep his mouth shut, and that Spiteri had entered into a contract for his warehouse so that when his term of office was over he would continue being paid by the school, the statement continued.

The statement read that the alleged financial irregularities are being dealt with by PWC with whom the judge held an online meeting to discuss a number of issues raised during the hearing of evidence.

"The school's auditors had called to inquire about the sum of €200,000 registered as miscellaneous. Bartolo admits to being furious about this news and she spoke to Templeman and Azzopardi about this. According to testimony, she alleged that Spiteri had "robbed" the school. Eventually, the invoices were traced and the auditors were satisfied. However, Bartolo failed to immediately inform Templeman and Azzopardi, until later. Templeman went on to make allegations of financial irregularities on how Spiteri, through KJM Enterprises, had made approximately €3 million. Spiteri testified that this sum had been made over eight years and included the Multipurpose Hall, employees' wages, materials used and that payment was always made against invoices provided. During evidence Templeman referred to further financial irregularities - he exhibited a bag containing shredded paper, which he claimed contained documents discarded following the financial administrator's resignation and which he said had been passed on to him by a cleaner - the judge concluded these allegations were hearsay."

"It was established that this claim of hush money, was actually a severance pay package."

"The judge established that Spiteri had a 2,000 square metre warehouse and when the school used to empty classes to carry out works the furniture was held there. When Spiteri's term as chairman was coming to an end, he informed the School Board he could no longer offer free use of the warehouse. This was discussed at board level and since his rate matched other commercial rates it was decided to rent it. Eventually, after the new board was appointed it was established that not all the space was being utilised and Tortell, the new chairman, said he was not happy with the arrangements nor with the fact that the warehouse belonged to the previous chairman's company. He had started the process to terminate the contract but this was superseded by events."

"On school head Stefania Bartolo, the judge noted that many witnesses spoke highly of her, but he went on to list a number of instances where she should have known to act better and where she failed to take disciplinary action."

"Delving into detail on inappropriate situations and interpersonal relations, the inquiring judge concludes that: 'A school cannot be run as a fiefdom. It is intended to prepare students for life not only through instruction but also through education... Aggressiveness, arrogance, badmouthing, insults, swearing are always condemnable let alone in an educational institution. Where disciplinary action is required, then there should not be any hindrance in taking it; objectivity is essential.'"

 

 

 


 

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