Monday 17 December 2018

Four boys, including Mick Wallace’s son, expelled over Facebook sex claims about teachers

Oatlands College, in Stillorgan
TD Mick Wallace reporters

THE SON of Independent TD Mick Wallace is one of four students who have been expelled from a well known southside Dublin school for posting abusive sexual allegations about their teachers on Facebook.

The incident at Oatlands College, in Stillorgan, an all-boys secondary school, also led to 40 students receiving detention for tagging the offending material with a Facebook ‘like’.

The four fifth year students at the centre of the incident, have already been suspended for 20 days, the Irish Times reports.

Their parents are expected to appeal the expulsions under section 29 of the Education Act.

The allegations posted on the social networking site are understood to have referred to both a male and female teacher and disparaging remarks were also made about another female teacher.

The offending page was said to be "highly inappropriate, offensive and damaging".

"It was very much back of the toilet door stuff," a source connected to the respected Christian Brothers school said, referring to the material posted online.

Oatlands management took what a source described as "swift action" to have the page removed.

"Obviously, the page and the comments being made on it went through the student body like wildfire," the source said.

The Sunday Independent reported last month that the 20 day suspension was a ‘cooling off’ period, but it is understood that the decision to expel the boys by the school is now final.

The parents of the four pupils have already met with school authorities over the affair and were informed of the investigation process.

An appeal of the students’ parents will be heard shortly by a three-member section 29 committee, including a Department of Education inspector and two other experts and there will be separate hearings for each case, according to the Irish Times.

Last year almost 50 per cent of such appeals taken by parents were successful.

In total, 367 appeals were taken but close to half were withdrawn prior to hearing. In the remaining 218 cases, 95 were ruled in favour of the parents.

Oatlands College is one of south county Dublin's best known non-fee paying schools with over 500 pupils.

It has a strong academic pedigree with many of its students going on to nearby University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin.

It also has a strong sporting heritage, winning countless Dublin and Leinster titles in soccer, gaelic football and hurling.

In its recent evaluation by the Department of Education, the school was praised for its "professional management, commitment to its mission statement" as well as affording its students a "real voice."

Former Fianna Fail minister Eamon O Cuiv, former Bank of Ireland boss Brian Goggin, the late Father Ted star Dermot Morgan, and Dublin footballers Paul Griffin and Ross O'Carroll are all past pupils of the school.

Commenting on this, a source at the school said: "This kind of thing is bad enough when students mutter amongst themselves in the school corridor. It's a very different and potentially far more serious matter when it's posted on the internet. Whatever about the immediate hurt it causes for the victim, it can have serious consequences personally and professionally if it's allowed to go unchecked."

A spokesman for the teachers' union the ASTI said: "Any type of bullying cannot be tolerated. Cyber bullying is just a modern day form of bullying. Whether it's student against student, or student against teacher, it's very serious.

"There needs to be a whole look at electronic media and how quickly things go viral, and very often, badly wrong. Facebook pages can be removed, but in a lot of cases, the material stays on the web permanently. There have been some terrible cases of online abuse. One only has to think of the case of Phoebe Prince in America. Online abuse played a part in that.

"As this becomes more commonplace, it will become more of an issue. People are entitled to freedom of expression, but there is a responsibility that comes with that.

"Across the board, there needs to be an examination of the use of online media.".

Children’s Minister Frances Fitzgerald and the Education Minister, Ruairi Quinn, today launched the National Anti-Bullying Forum to bring stakeholders together to help tackle bullying to mark International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Ms Fitzgerald said she had been impressed with how young people are leading the way on challenging attitudes and breaking down stereotypes against homophobic bullying.

Mr Quinn said teachers are increasingly the victims of cyber bullying and while he did not comment on the Oatlands College case, he said the publicity it generated showed the growing problem of bullying on social media.

“Bullying is a problem which I take very seriously. Bullying in school can ruin a young person’s enjoyment of some of the most important years of their life. In extreme situations it can also, tragically, lead to a young person taking their own life,” the Minister said.

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