Teacher alleged to have applied Sellotape to mouths of students
Inquiry hears teacher told fifth class students to ‘whisht’ as they were chatting and giggling
The teacher’s name, school and other identifying details will remain anonymous. File photograph: Getty Images
Primary schoolgirls have told how they were left upset and in tears after a teacher placed Sellotape on their mouths to stop them from chatting during class, the first fitness-to-teach inquiry has heard.
The teacher at the centre of the allegations, a woman, did not appear at the inquiry on Wednesday.
The pupils – now aged between 15 and 17 – told the inquiry the teacher had asked them to “whisht” because they were chatting and gigging during a fifth class maths lesson.
When they failed to do so, it is alleged she placed sticky tape across the mouths of up to two girls, while she directed at least three more to place sticky tape across their own mouths.
While there were boys in the class at the time, they were not instructed to do so.
The pupils individually gave evidence that their mouths were Sellotaped for anything between 15 and 40 minutes.
One student – now aged 16 – said that after she refused to put sticky tape across her mouth, the teacher did so herself. When she later asked to leave the class to go the toilet, she said the teacher refused to allow her to leave.
Another student, now 17, said she put the Sellotape on because she thought she had no choice in the matter. “At first I thought it was a joke ... then I realised she was serious. I got upset about it and felt a bit scared.”
The name of the teacher, school and other identifying details will remain anonymous in the interests of protecting children at the centre of the allegations.
The incident is alleged to have occurred on March 7th, 2012, three days after the woman began work as a substitute teacher. She was registered as a teacher about six years prior to the allegation.
The school principal said that, when she was alerted to the alleged incident shortly afterwards, she could see by the girls faces that they were upset.
“One or two were crying, and there were little red marks around their face and mouth,” she said.
“From the best of my recollection, they were shook and visibly upset. No more than myself, they were a bit shocked at what had happened.”
The principal said one of the more vulnerable students was more upset than the others.
“She was very, very upset... I found out from talking to her that she had refused to put Sellotape on her face as instructed, and the teacher had physically done it,” she said.
Tried to make light of it
The school principal told the inquiry that when she confronted the teacher about the incident, she did not deny it but tried to make light of it.
“To the best of my recollection, she said it was messing and she didn’t mean any harm by it. She didn’t deny it out flat to me,” the principal said.
However, in more recent correspondence with the inquiry, the teacher rejected the allegations as “historic and unfounded” and rejected any allegation that she had assaulted any child.
She maintained that when she turned around to the class, she spotted that some of the students had Sellotape on their mouths and she asked them to remove it.
These assertions were denied as “not true” or “false” by the five pupils in evidence on Wednesday.
The inquiry’s oral hearing, which concluded on Wednesday, heard that the teacher was not present and did not have any legal representatives.
She told the Teaching Council in emails last September and October that she had medical issues and there was no way she could attend a public oral hearing.
The teacher also argued that she had been denied fair procedure and that the inquiry was biased against her.
She supplied what she termed a “victim impact statement”, relating to herself, outlining her health issues and raising concerns about the manner in which statements had been collected from the children.
Cut off all contact
After insisting that she only be contacted by post rather than email or phone, she subsequently cut off all contact with the Teaching Council.
She also deleted her email and phone number from the Teaching Council’s registration webpage for teachers.
In closing remarking to the inquiry, Remy Farrell SC, for the inquiry, said it was not possible to reconcile the teacher’s evidence with that of the five students and the principal.
He said the teacher’s conduct – if proven – could amount to a criminal offence and give rise to continuing child safety concerns.
Mr Farrell said that while it was for the disciplinary panel to decide, the teacher’s conduct “self-evidently” amounted to professional misconduct.
The Teaching Council’s disciplinary panel adjourned its public hearing and will determine whether the allegations against the teacher are proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Sanctions for teachers may range from a written warning to an indefinite ban on teaching in a publicly funded school.
The three-person disciplinary panel was made up of two teachers – Denis Magner and Eamon Shaughnessy – and Áine Lynch, chief executive of the National Parents Council (primary).
The panel has powers similar to those of the High Court and can compel witnesses and evidence.
However, teachers who are subject to the inquiry are not obliged to attend in person and may be represented by a union, colleague or legal representative.