Teacher sex allegations prompt class action

The state government is negotiating compensation payments for women preyed upon as teenagers by their teachers at high schools on Sydney's northern beaches in the 1980s.

News Corp Australia can reveal law firm Maurice Blackburn is acting for several women who claim they were victims of a culture that allowed male teachers to have sexual relationships with girls in their classes as school officials turned a blind eye.

This seedy underbelly was exposed in News Corp podcast series The Teacher's Pet, which investigated the alleged murder of Lyn Dawson by her husband Chris, who then moved his schoolgirl lover into their home two days after his wife vanished in 1982.

Cromer High, where at least one claimant attended is the school where Chris Dawson had an affair with Joanne Curtis. Picture: Simon Dean
Cromer High, where at least one claimant attended is the school where Chris Dawson had an affair with Joanne Curtis. Picture: Simon Dean

 

Robyn Wheeler and Ros Taylor were at Cromer High with Joanne Curtis. Picture: Richard Dobson
Robyn Wheeler and Ros Taylor were at Cromer High with Joanne Curtis. Picture: Richard Dobson

News Corp understands there are several claimants, including at least one who went to Cromer High, the school where Dawson had an open affair with 16-year-old schoolgirl Joanne Curtis whom he would later marry.

There is no suggestion Dawson is the subject of any of the claims.

"We have received instructions in several matters arising from historical abuse in high schools on Sydney's northern beaches," Maurice Blackburn lawyer Danielle De Paoli said yesterday.

"We have been corresponding with the NSW Department of Education on behalf of claimants and are now awaiting a response prior to filing any formal claims in court."

While Maurice Blackburn declined to comment on exactly how much the claimants were seeking, other legal experts told the Saturday Telegraph they could range from $100,000 each to up to $1 million.

Former Cromer High teacher Chris Dawson married ex-student Joanne Curtis. Dawson is not the subject of any of the sex claims being investigated. Picture: Dan Himbrechts
Former Cromer High teacher Chris Dawson married ex-student Joanne Curtis. Dawson is not the subject of any of the sex claims being investigated. Picture: Dan Himbrechts

It comes as NSW Police continue their investigation into the alleged sexual abuse. The investigation is focusing on three high schools in particular - at Cromer, Forest and Beacon Hill. The Telegraph understands the claimants being represented by Maurice Blackburn are connected with the matters NSW Police are investigating.

Former students who attended Cromer High in the 1980s said they were hopeful the Education Department would give payouts to victims to recognise their suffering.

Jane Muir was school captain in 1983 and told The Saturday Telegraph there were several teachers besides Chris Dawson who cracked onto students.

Ms Muir, now 53, said one teacher in particular had made advances towards multiple girls, including herself.

"It was a culture where teachers and the students mixed quite readily … there was a lot of underage drinking and we saw them at parties," she said. "I know myself, I didn't think much of it. I assumed that it was the norm.

"I was grabbed by a male teacher I was babysitting for, he tried to kiss me."

Ms Muir said some former students had been badly affected by what happened to them and deserved justice.

Cromer High School. Picture: Simon Dean
Cromer High School. Picture: Simon Dean

Roslyn Taylor was at the school from 1979-1985 and also said it was common for students to drink with teachers.

"It definitely would have been a culture and kids were quite vulnerable at that particular age and the scene of drinking with older people, to be in the in crowd, it was definitely part of the culture of that particular time," she said.

Ms Taylor said while she had not been a victim she knew people who were taken advantage of by teachers.

Robyn Wheeler attended the school until 1983 and has provided police with the names of 10 teachers alleged to have harassed students. She said she there were some people still working in the Department of Education with information about what happened who were scared to speak out.

A young Joanne Curtis.
A young Joanne Curtis.

"People who work for the department who were at Cromer or at other schools at the time have spoken to me and provided me with information and leads, but did not wish to be named because their kids are at schools (on) the northern beaches or they are employed by the Department of Education and they can't be seen to be (speaking out)," Ms Wheeler said.

"There is still an element of people being afraid to speak out because they would jeopardise their position."

A Department of Education spokesman said they were letting police investigate.

"The department is relying on the highly trained officers of the NSW Police Force to investigate all claims in these matters with the dignity and respect the survivors deserve," he said.

"The department is providing every assistance to the police to ensure every survivor of the past is heard.

"The police investigation makes it inappropriate for the department to comment further."



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