Wednesday 20 September 2017

Parents' council head resigns over Facebook expulsions row

Colm Kelpie and Katherine Donnelly

THE head of the parents' council at a school where four pupils were expelled for posting abusive remarks about teachers on Facebook subsequently resigned, the Irish Independent has learned.

Ruth Cummins said she stepped down as chairperson of the Oatlands College parents' council last month claiming the school had been "heavy handed".

Four fifth-year students -- including the son of a TD -- have been expelled from the south Dublin school and 40 others who "liked" the Facebook page were given detention.

The offensive comments include sexual allegations about both a male and female teacher.

Ms Cummins said she in no way condoned offensive behaviour towards teachers, and accepted she had not seen the abusive material. But she said expelling the students was too harsh.

"They're fifth-year students. These guys have been out of school since March," she told the Irish Independent.

"I think the school was very heavy handed."

Oatlands College in Stillorgan is a non-fee-paying school with students from across south Dublin and further afield.

Ms Cummins, who has a son at the school, believed it was a "group punishment" and that parents should have been given the chance to question it.

Detention

"In this instance there were 40 close students put into detention and I felt that was really a group punishment and we should have as a group of parents been allowed to at least query the school on this but the management would not entertain any discussion on it," she said.

"Then I felt that we're letting down the parents we're representing and we were letting down the students by not talking about it. So I resigned."

The TD could not be reached yesterday, but his office said he would not be commenting. on the issue.

Ms Cummins said some of the students put into detention "liked" the page without being aware of the offensive remarks. She said her views were not shared by the 28-person parents' council.

She has been a member of the parents' council for five years and served as chairperson for three. She was due to step down in September.

"I feel that if they are going to learn respect they need to be treated respectfully and they weren't treated totally respectfully."

But she said among the parent body there was a mix of views about the treatment of the children.

It is open to the parents of the four students to appeal the expulsions under Section 29 of the Education Act. Up to yesterday no appeals had been lodged.

The school would make no comment on the matter.

Confirmation of the Oatlands expulsions emerged as two ministers headed up new efforts to tackle bullying in schools.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn and Children Minister Frances Fitzgerald hosted a forum attended by students' and parents' representatives, school leader, rights and anti-bullying activists.

Mr Quinn has also established a working group on tackling bullying which will receive a report from the forum.

The report will lead to new anti-bullying guidelines for schools, the first since 1993.

Irish Independent

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