Monday 16 December 2019

Student 'tore his t-shirt to shreds' in angry outburst after wine and pizza with teacher - inquiry

The Teaching Council in Maynooth
The Teaching Council in Maynooth

Katherine Donnell, Education Editor

A 19-year-old student who was picked up by Gardai on a motorway soon after midnight after an incident at his school, had reacted angrily when he heard of contact between his housemaster and parents over his studies, a Teaching Council inquiry heard.

He “tore his t-shirt to shreds and said he would do what he wanted”, the teacher at the centre of a professional misconduct inquiry wrote in an account of events that he sent to a colleague the following day.

The inquiry arises from a complaint by the school principal to the Teaching Council under new legislation.

In his written account to his colleague, the teacher at the centre of the case was recalling the evening of November 28 2016, when the student came to his on-campus quarters. They were alone.

The teacher wrote that there had been “two weeks of difficulty trying to get the student to study”. He said they were clashing and he was keen to “remedy the situation".

Earlier in the day the teacher had emailed the student’s father about his concerns and said he would sort it out.

Both the teacher and student drank wine together that evening in the teacher’s quarters and the teacher wrote that the student had about three glasses of wine and “I think I maybe had twice that”.

The teacher said that he understood that drinking with him was not a good idea, but added that it was a “useful pastoral tool".

It was exam time and he said as “things were very stressful” he decided to have wine and the student wanted to join. They also had pizza.

He said the discussion was positive and he put on movies. The account went on to stay: “Unfortunately, I  explained that I would expect him to study hard and had replied to his father’s email. He wasn’t happy that we had communicated”.

It was then that the student tore off his tee shirt and said he would do what he wanted and the teacher told him “I wouldn’t lie for him".

He said he helped him to put on his jumper/hoodie and told him to relax adding that “in hindsight this was unusual”.

The student took his cigarettes and lighter and stormed out. He followed him after 15 minutes as he was worried. The student wasn’t in his dorm and the teacher walked around the campus.

The hearing also heard more about the attitude to alcohol in the school. Another teacher and housemaster said that generally speaking  the policy was that there should be no access to alcohol for students, but there might be controlled occasions, such as a barbeque, where student could have up to four beers.

The hearing heard of supervised occasions in the school where Transition Year students, some of whom were 15, fifth year students and sixth year students consumed alcohol.

The assistant housemaster said when he inquired about the whereabouts of the student in question that evening, he was told he was having grinds in the residence of the teacher who is at the centre of the allegations. While it would not be usual to be having grinds in a teacher’s residence, because it was exam week he felt that was a reason for it.

Both the teacher/housemaster and the assistant housemaster who gave direct evidence to the hearing said that the teacher against whom the allegation are made was popular.  The hearing was also told of positive references supplied to the inquiry from a former principal, teachers and former students.

The teacher/housemaster against whom the allegations were made, is not being called as a witness.

Gardai picked up the student on a motorway between about midnight and 1am on the morning of November 29, as he was trying to flag a taxi.

The inquiry heard of a series of text messages between the teacher and the student on November 29, before the student’s father intervened and sent a message stating, “No more WhatsApp”.

The teacher was suspended on full pay.

Today was she second and final day of the hearing.

The case is being heard in public but  on an anonymised basis, so no names will be revealed

The allegations are that the teacher/housemaster:

*provided and/or allowed the  student to consume  one or more glasses of wine in an in-campus residence:

*left the student in the residence knowing that alcohol was available, knowing that the student had already consumed alcohol and/or was  angry and or upset;

*was under the influence of alcohol and not fit and/or capable of discharging duties as a housemaster;

*failed to report or contact any senior member of staff after noticing that the student was absent from his dorm

*sent text messages to the student throughout the night and early morning, including messages to retract information that he had provided to the principal and or the Gardai;

*continued to send text messages after the principal had required that he cease.

Such hearings, similar to those conducted for doctors and nurses, investigate cases of underperformance and serious misconduct.

To reach a hearing, a complaint has to go through a Teaching Council Investigation Committee, which decides whether it merits being forwarded to a Disciplinary Committee.

Complaints that are considered frivolous or vexatious will not progress to a formal hearing. 

In extreme cases, teachers may be "struck off" the professional register. Lesser penalties, include suspension, admonishment or an offer of support to improve performance.

Experience in Scotland and Wales suggests in Ireland up to 30 teachers a year could face a disciplinary hearing.

To date, the Teaching Council has received about 50 complaints under the legislation .

About half of the complaints have been refused and the remainder are at different stages in the investigation and disciplinary process.

A large number of that initial batch of cases are legacy complaints that were awaiting the enactment of Fitness to Teach legislation in July 2016.

The default positon is that Teaching Council hearings will be heard in public,  but any party can request a private, partly private or public, but anonymised, hearing and it is up to the hearing panel to decide.

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