Walk-out threat if girl stays in class

8th October 2004 at 01:00
More than 50 teachers at a Northern Ireland school are threatening to strike over a pupil who made false and malicious allegations.

The teachers, all members of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, were due to walk out yesterday unless the 14-year-old girl had been dealt with to the union's satisfaction.

In June 2002 the pupil, then 12, alleged that her breasts had been touched during a lesson by a teacher, who was suspended later that month from Laurelhill community college in Lisburn.

But an attempt to convict the teacher for indecent assault this year failed when one of the pupil witnesses changed her evidence saying she had been told to give false testimony by the accuser.

The teacher, in his 40s, pleaded guilty to technical assault in court in April because he acknowledged touching the girl on the chin. He was given an absolute discharge, with the prosecution stating he had "a completely clear record" and that there was "no connotation of indecency" in his actions.

But he remained suspended despite repeated attempts by the NASUWT to get him reinstated.

In August members of the union at the school voted for strike action. It was suspended to give the education authority, the South Eastern Education and Library Board, an opportunity to mount an investigation.

The teacher was re-instated last month, but went off on stress-related sick leave after a false allegation of physical assault was made against him by another pupil, and the mother of the original pupil repeated her daughter's accusations to other parents.

The girl has since made allegations against two other teachers, and the union is poised to take open-ended strike action at the school which has around 60 teachers. The union wants to ensure that its members never have to come into contact with her.

Chris Keates, NASUWT acting general secretary, said it was one of the worst cases of "gross mismanagement" of false allegations her union had encountered.

Laurelhill's governors said that the teacher's suspension after the court case had been in line with Department for Education guidelines, which had been agreed with teachers' unions. Bill Watson, chair of governors, accused union members of acting unreasonably and making misleading and inaccurate statements.

"They are using the unfortunate set of circumstances to pursue their own agenda and it is clear that they have not considered the impact of their actions on the 970 pupils at Laurelhill," he said.

News 16

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