Female teacher tells INTO of being head-butted and spat at

Tracey Whyte says that, in the current school year, she has suffered 20 physical assaults

On the final day of the INTO congress in Ennis, Clones native Tracey Whyte told delegates that, in the current school year, she has suffered 20 physical assaults, with a total of 60 serious assaults against staff at her school. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

On the final day of the INTO congress in Ennis, Clones native Tracey Whyte told delegates that, in the current school year, she has suffered 20 physical assaults, with a total of 60 serious assaults against staff at her school. File photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

 

A schoolteacher has told the INTO congress she has been head-butted, spat at, kicked in the head and had a fire-extinguisher thrown at her while in the classroom.

On the final day of the INTO congress in Ennis, Clones native Tracey Whyte told delegates that, in the current school year, she has suffered 20 physical assaults, with a total of 60 serious assaults against staff at her school.

Ms Whyte told delegates she is a teacher at a Dublin school for children with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties.

“I have been head-butted in the face on more than one occasion, punched in the nose and face; received a kick to the head more than once, been thumped in the arms; kicked in the legs and repeatedly punched in the stomach,” she said.

“Children have spat in my face repeatedly. I’ve had my wrist twisted causing me difficulty to write and I’ve been charged at with the fire extinguisher and had a fire extinguisher thrown at me.”

Ms Whyte stressed that she loves her job. However, she said that “of the 20 serious assaults on me, I have hobbled back to the classroom black and blue - with my biggest fear that I will exhaust my sick leave”.

‘Assault leave’

Ms Whyte was one of several speakers who outlined physical assaults on them and successfully called for a nationwide ballot for industrial action if the Department of Education doesn’t exempt “assault leave” from normal sick leave entitlement by next January.

“It is not the children’s fault,” she said. “They can’t help it. We are not blaming the children. What can be helped is that assault leave is not sick leave.”

Delegates voted in favour of the motion, despite the INTO executive opposing the call for a nationwide ballot on the issue.

Executive INTO member Brendan O’Sullivan told delegates that the Department of Education has confirmed assault leave will not be combined with sick leave for the purpose of reducing sick leave pay.

He said: “If I were to list five issues on which we should consider balloting for industrial action, this would not be among them.”

In her maiden speech at congress, Ms Whyte said: “Nobody deserves to be physically assaulted. However, the greater assault and insult is that when I’m assaulted, I have to use my own personal sick leave - and I’ve to pay for it as well.”

‘Traumatised teacher’

Dublin City South East delegate Miriam Mulkerrin said assaults are not confined to the special needs sector, adding she was aware in her own branch area of “a seven-year-old biting, kicking and sinking teeth into a teacher’s arm, necessitating a doctor’s visit for the teacher”.

She said “the traumatised teacher had no option but to forge ahead and get better in her own time at the weekend”.

Another special needs teacher, Megan Ní Ghabhlín, told congress that as a result of assaults, “I have had my finger dislocated and twice had my hand broken.”

She added: “These are only some of my injuries and I have had bites, whacks, kicks, being spat at and verbal aggression.

Ms Ní­ Ghabhlín said she has become desensitised to the assaults.

She said she “and many others go straight back to the classroom, black and blue” after assaults because of the fear teachers will use up their sick leave.

Rousing reception

Later, Mícheál Kilcrann received a rousing reception when he called for the repeal of Section 37.1 of the Employment Equality Act that allows schools to fire, or not hire, people whose sexual orientation or family status is not in line with their religious ethos.

The congress unanimously endorsed the motion calling for the repeal of the section, which Mr Kilcrann said is “inappropriate and unnecessary”.

He said: “The repeal will result in a more positive impact on our school culture and ultimately on our society. It will be more reflective of the multicultural and pluralist Ireland that we are living in.”

Meanwhile, Emma Dineen, principal of Cloghroe National School in Inniscarra, Co Cork, took her post as new president of the INTO, succeeding Clare man Sean McMahon.