Sunday 22 September 2019

Five schoolgirls 'left shocked' after 'teacher taped their mouths shut'

The Teaching Council inquiry in Maynooth heard the allegations about taping of students’ mouths. Stock picture
The Teaching Council inquiry in Maynooth heard the allegations about taping of students’ mouths. Stock picture

Alan O'Keeffe and Katherine Donnelly

Five schoolgirls said their mouths were taped shut by a teacher in fifth class when they did not stop talking.

They gave evidence of their alleged treatment by a substitute teacher at Ireland's first- ever public fitness-to-practise inquiry, held by the Teaching Council yesterday.

The female teacher faced allegations of professional misconduct at the inquiry into the March 2012 incident in a primary school.

"I was scared and shocked," said one of the girls as she recalled the incident, which is alleged to have happened when they were in fifth class.

The teacher was not present at the hearing and was not represented. In a submission to the Teaching Council, she denied the accusations and claimed the children had taped up their own mouths. Each of the pupils contradicted this.

The young witnesses, who are now aged between 15 and 16, said there were six boys and five girls in a maths class. They admitted that all the pupils were talking and messing and that they did not stop talking despite the teacher telling them to "whist" on several occasions.

The substitute teacher, who had started at the school two days previously, said she would Sellotape their mouths if they didn't stop talking.

"She could not control the class. We kept talking," said a now 16-year-old.

The inquiry heard that the teacher placed Sellotape on the lips of two of the girls and instructed the other three girls in the class to put Sellotape on their own mouths. It remained on the girls' mouths for up to 30 minutes until the class ended.

Comment: At least 25 more cases in the pipeline after this milestone event in Irish education

The school principal said she was later informed what had happened by a pupil and she spoke with the five girls.

"I could see they were upset. One or two were crying," she said.

The girls had "little red marks" around their mouths, she said. When the substitute teacher arrived back at the school later that afternoon, she put the allegations to her.

The teacher did not deny it and said she "didn't mean any harm by it". However, she later told the Teaching Council she had not taped the pupil's mouths.

The principal informed her that afternoon that she was not to return to the substitute teaching job. She contacted the parents and asked the girls to write down what had happened.

The principal said she had contacted the Department of Education, Tusla and the HSE.

The hearing heard that attempts by solicitor Natasha Forde, acting on behalf of the Teaching Council director, to maintain contact with the teacher since a preliminary hearing in September, had been fruitless.

At one stage, the teacher indicated to the inquiry team she "no longer" wished to be contacted by phone or email.

Among the evidence was that, last month, a man answered a call to the contact number provided by the teacher and said it was a "wrong number". On other occasions, there was no response or the call was disconnected.

Over two days last week, a summons server called to the teacher's apartment and there was no reply. One neighbour said she hadn't seen her for the previous week and that post hadn't been collected.

A 10-year-old neighbour told the summons server that he believed she had "gone back to her mother's house in another county".

The identity of the teacher, the school principal and the pupils were not made public at the hearing. The school was not named.

The hearing concluded with the three-member panel indicating it will give its decision on the case at a later date.

Irish Independent

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