South African Tristan Vanderwatt started working at Gippsland Grammar in 2019 as a support staffer for boarders after moving for a gap-year.
Shortly after he turned 20 in April last year he contacted one student on social media to come and “cuddle” with him in his room.
The girl reported Vanderwatt but the school “negligently” didn’t sack him, Judge Paul Higham said in the County Court on Thursday.
Instead he was warned about the “unacceptability of his behaviour”. Two months later he crashed a vehicle that belonged to the school while drink driving.
“Astonishingly you were again allowed to continue in the role despite your demonstrated unsuitability,” the judge said.
He contacted two of his victims shortly after the crash on social media apps SnapChat and HouseParty where he sent explicit messages to the girls aged 14 and 15.
Vanderwatt had sex with the 14-year-old girl, sneaking her into the school’s gym after midnight and taking her to his bedroom on other occasions. The offending continued for months before a male student told the head of boarding about his suspicions.
Despite initially denying the allegations, Vanderwatt confessed and was kicked off school property and the police were called.
He was nabbed trying to flee the country in December before admitting to his crimes in a police interview.
“You sought sexual intimacy with the children in the care of the school,” Judge Higham said.
Though the now-21-year-old was warned about his behaviour it was ignored and clear boundaries were broken, the judge said.
While Judge Higham accepted Vanderwatt was far from home and felt lonely and isolated, it did not condone or legitimise the offending.
Vanderwatt pleaded guilty to one count of encouraging a child under 16 to engage in sexual activity and two counts of sexual penetration of a child under 16. The judge took into account the man’s youth, good prospects of rehabilitation, guilty plea, genuine remorse and immaturity.
Vanderwatt sobbed and wiped his eyes as he was jailed for three years. He must serve at least 20 months before he is eligible for parole.