Housemaster at boarding school regrets allowing student consume alcohol

Teacher gives undertaking at fitness-to-practise hearing not to do so again

The teacher said he then encountered the student as he was being escorted back into the campus by gardaí

The teacher said he then encountered the student as he was being escorted back into the campus by gardaí

 

A boarding school teacher who admitted allowing a student consume alcohol in his on-campus private living quarters has given an undertaking not to do so again.

After deliberating for around 15 minutes over evidence heard during a two-day fitness-to-practise inquiry, a three-person Teaching Council panel came to the conclusion that “public interests… would be appropriately served” by the teacher promising not to allow such a situation arise again under his supervision.

Legal counsel for the teacher said these undertakings would be given “without reservation”.

It was added that the teacher “regrets enormously” his behaviour on the night of November 28th when the incident occurred, and that he apologises for any distress caused by his actions.

It was alleged that the 19-year-old student had consumed “one or more glasses of wine” at the teacher’s on-campus residence, and that the teacher knew the student had consumed alcohol before leaving him alone in the presence of more alcohol.

The council took into consideration evidence in relation to four other allegations against the teacher, who was also housemaster of a dorm in the school.

Allegations which prompted no further action included that the teacher was unable to discharge his professional duties as housemaster due to being under the influence of alcohol, that he failed to report the incident to senior staff, that he messaged the student to retract his account of the episode and got in further contact with the student after specifically being told not to.

The fitness to practise inquiry has now been completed, and a final report on the case is expected to be issued shortly.

Earlier on Wednesday, the inquiry heard that the teacher accused of professional misconduct told a colleague he thought drinking with older students is a “useful pastoral tool”.

Last week the inquiry was told the boarding school student was found by gardaí in a distressed state attempting to make his way to Dublin Airport at 1am. The student was trying to return to his home country after drinking with a teacher at the school earlier that night.

Identifying details relating to the school, student and teacher involved in the incident cannot be published.

On Wednesday members of the inquiry panel heard evidence from a witness who is a fellow teacher at the school, and who is also housemaster of another house on the campus.

Good friends

He said he had known the teacher against whom the accusations were made for “12 or 13 years”, and that they were good friends.

He described his colleague as a “very organised, very efficient, good ... teacher… [who] seemed to get on well with the students in his care” as housemaster.

Under cross-examination from legal representatives for the Teaching Council, the witness confirmed he received a phone call from the other teacher on November 29th, the morning after the incident had occurred.

The witness said the teacher “seemed extremely upset” about an encounter with a student the previous night.

He was told by the teacher “he had had to leave the school” and his private quarters on campus, and had been asked by school management to write a report into the incident.

An exchange of emails then followed between the two colleagues over the course of November 29th and 30th, 2016, during which the teacher against whom allegations were made sent a report of the incident to the witness.

Counsel for the Teaching Council read out the contents of the report compiled by the teacher, in which he voiced concerns that he “seemed to be clashing a lot over a lot of issues” with the student in question, including laptop use and texting.

The teacher added he had contacted the student’s father and promised to address the concerns which had arisen over his son’s behaviour.

The emailed account said the student arrived at the teacher’s private residence, which adjoins the student’s boarding house, on the night of November 28th following a biology exam earlier that day.

Stressful

The two were alone and the situation was described as “stressful” by the teacher, who initially offered to “share some pizza” with the student before they later began drinking wine together.

“He had about three glasses of wine over the course of the evening, I had I think twice that,” read the report. The teacher described the consumption of alcohol as a “useful pastoral tool for older pupils”.

According to the account, an exchange then occurred between the two in which the teacher told the student that “he may not get to university” as his parents would not provide him with financial support to further his education if he did not attain good grades at school.

At that point the student “got agitated”, tore off his t-shirt and threw it on a chair. A further conversation ensued in which the teacher told the student he “wouldn’t lie for him” to his parents about grades, and the student replied that he “wouldn’t be threatened”.

The email said the student left the teacher’s private residence after this argument, and the teacher then spent 40 minutes searching the school campus in an attempt to locate the distressed teenager.

The teacher said he then encountered the student as he was being escorted back into the campus by gardaí after he was picked up on the side of a public road, but that the student refused to talk to him.

It was added that the teacher “cannot say for sure” what the student may have taken from a drinks cabinet during the incident, but that he found two empty mini-bottles of Jagermeister the following morning along with a bottle of whiskey which appeared to be emptier than the night before.

The teacher said that during subsequent conversations through Whatsapp, the student said he would not make any accusations arising from the episode. “I said it was best to say what had happened, that we had a fight,” the teacher said.

The student then returned to his home country, after which the teacher was told by the boy’s parents to refrain from contacting him.

Get-together

When asked about the school’s policy on alcohol consumption, a fellow teacher at the school told the inquiry “the general position is that there should be no access to alcohol for students in the school”, but that there are “formal, controlled occasions where students would have access to alcohol”.

These included at barbecues, during birthday celebrations and at end-of-year leaving parties for students.

“We might have a glass of prosecco, birthday cake, a chat – the whole occasion would last 35 to 40 minutes,” the witness said, adding that students might be given “three to four bottles of beer each” during such get-togethers in their boarding houses.

Asked if he had ever consumed alcohol in his private quarters alone in the company of a student, the witness replied: “That wouldn’t normally happen… you wouldn’t put yourself generally into that situation, it’s a difficult situation.”

An assistant housemaster told the inquiry that when he asked another student where the student at the centre of the accusations was on the night of November 28th, he was told he was “doing maths grinds” in the housemaster’s private residence.

The assistant housemaster added that he felt this was a “reasonable” thing to happen as it was during exam time, and that he left the boarding house after 10pm when the rest of the students were in bed.

He said he did not speak to the teacher in question until the following morning when details of the previous night’s events began to emerge.