Teacher who ordered schoolgirls to sellotape their mouths shut rightly removed from register, court rules

Aodhan O Faolain and Ray Managh

A teacher who ordered five primary schoolgirls to sellotape their own mouths for chatting and giggling in class was properly removed for professional misconduct from the Teaching Council of Ireland’s Register of Teachers, the High Court has ruled.

Ms Justice Mary Faherty directed in a reserved judgment that the teacher and the school where she had been employed could not be named in order to protect the identity of the girls concerned who were now in their teens and engaged in the Leaving Certificate cycle.

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Judge Faherty said the teacher had been properly dealt with by the Council following an investigation into her classroom directions and the upset she had caused to the five students concerned.

The teacher, who at the time of the incident was in the very early stages of her career, had denied the allegations but had not appealed the Council’s decision to remove her.

The judge said that after finding that the allegations of professional misconduct had been proven as fact the Council had held her actions to be wholly unacceptable and had described her conduct as disgraceful and dishonourable.

The Teaching Council had told the teacher she could apply to be restored to the Register after a year from the date of her removal and had then referred its decision to the High Court seeking its confirmation.

Noting that the teacher had not opted to invoke her right to appeal the Council’s decision, Judge Faherty affirmed the sanction imposed stating that while it was most severe it was reasonable and proportionate in the circumstances.

Judge Faherty said the sanction had fulfilled the Council's requirement to protect the public, which in this case were children of school going age. There had been no procedural unfairness in the manner in which the investigation had been conducted.

The Judge said the Council had found that the teacher had not engaged in a meaningful way in the inquiry process and posed a significant risk of repeating the behaviour.

The council had taken all mitigating factors, including the teacher's claim that she was just newly qualified and suffered from medical conditions, into consideration.

Judge Faherty said aggravating factors taken into account included that the misconduct was of a serious nature that had caused harm to the children. There had been an abuse of a position of trust and the teacher had continued to deny incidents of proven fact.

The Judge said the Teaching Council had been correct in disregarding information conveyed to it in November 2017 by an unknown female telephone caller who had alleged she had been in a cafe with her son and had overheard five teenage girls talk about how they had lied and co-ordinated their stories.

The caller had stated she had heard the girls use the word sellotape several times.

Judge Faherty said the woman caller, who had made the telephone call to the Teaching Council’s offices, had stated she was aware of reports of an inquiry into a teacher who had been accused of putting sellotape on students’ mouths but when asked about the location of the café had hung up.

The judge said the Council had concerns about the call because the caller had not provided her name, the call had been received from a withheld telephone number and had been ended abruptly.

The Council had also been aware that the schoolgirls had travelled separately to and from the inquiry to give evidence and it had not appeared possible for them to have been together in a cafe after they had given their evidence.

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