Saturday 18 January 2020

Caretaker left with 'neck-wounds' after science teacher tried to remove statue of the Virgin Mary from school

A statue of the Virgin Mary. Stock photo: AFP/GETTY
A statue of the Virgin Mary. Stock photo: AFP/GETTY

Gordon Deegan

The attempted removal of a statue of the Virgin Mary at a school sparked a scuffle between a teacher and a caretaker that left the caretaker with a cut to his neck.

The teacher of computer science and maths was sanctioned after the confrontation.

As a result of the flashpoint between the two, the caretaker in his 60s was left visibly shaken up, sustained a cut to his neck and bruising to his hand. The matter was also reported to gardaí and an investigation was carried out by the school.

The teacher - who is a humanist - was issued with a verbal warning following the investigation.

Details of the incident on May 1, 2015, are contained in a new Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ruling.

A witness to the immediate aftermath said that the caretaker "stumbled out from behind the area after an aggressive altercation" and was "visibly shook from the incident".

No parties are named in the case and the teacher - employed at the school since 1994 - told the hearing that the placing of the statue provoked deep unease and anxiety in him because of his deeply held beliefs.

He said the presence of the May altar was "unpalatable and offensive to him personally on the basis of his belief that the religious statue of the Virgin Mary is one associated with the repression of normal human sexuality".

The teacher said that the manner in which he was accosted by the school caretaker while he tried to remove the statue amounted to harassment.

He said the incident resulted in him suffering physical harm and also caused him to suffer considerable stress and anxiety.

The accounts of what occurred were disputed, but according to the school, the teacher told the caretaker in an aggressive manner, "I'm putting it in your room so you can look at it" before removing the statue.

The school said the teacher was then asked to put back the statue and when he refused, the caretaker sought to retrieve it. It was then that the teacher pushed the caretaker, causing him to sustain a cut to his neck and bruising to his hand.

The WRC ruling found the teacher was not discriminated against on the grounds of religion. The adjudication officer in the case, Enda Murphy, said it was clear that "both parties engaged in conduct which was unprofessional".

Throwing out the teacher's claim for discrimination, harassment and victimisation, Mr Murphy said he did not believe the presence of the May altar "constituted a prohibition or disadvantage on him in terms of the manifestation or assertion of his beliefs as a humanist".

Solicitors for the teacher and for the school declined to comment yesterday.

Irish Independent

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