Teacher denies mishandling special needs pupil

A teacher has told a fitness-to-teach inquiry that he never shouted at or mishandled a pupil in his classroom, nor did he roughly remove ear defenders that the child relied upon due to an acute sensitivity to noise.

The teacher is facing allegations of professional misconduct brought by the mother of a nine-year-old child with autism who was in his class.

The complaint is based on information given to her by a special needs assistant (SNA) who worked in the teacher’s classroom.

The complainant alleges that the teacher removed the ear defenders from the boy without warning, that he shouted at him, and that on another occasion he tried to pull the boy off the floor by his arm in an inappropriate manner.

Giving evidence on the fourth day of the hearing the teacher strongly rejected the allegations.

He said he was totally and utterly dumbfounded when he first heard of the first complaint which related to events alleged to have taken place in his classroom on 5 February in 2019.

He said he could not make head nor tail of it and that he was shocked.

The teacher taught children in a special class for autism which had six pupils.

He had begun teaching in the classroom the previous November, having previously worked for two years in other roles as a special education teacher at the same school and at other schools prior to that.

This afternoon the teacher gave details of his dealings with the mother prior to February.

He said he had no indication that the child’s parents had any issue with his treatment of their son.

He said he had received a gift and a Christmas card signed by the child’s mother and father the previous December in which they thanked him for “doing an incredible job”.

The card was read out at the hearing. It stated that the parents could not believe the change in their child, that “he has come on so much”, and told the teacher to “keep up the good work”.

The teacher described the card as “one of the nicest cards” he had ever received.

‘Instantly cold’ demeanour

He went on to describe how things had changed when he met the mother on 5 February, the same day that the teacher allegedly mistreated the child.

This was a scheduled meeting held to discuss the child’s education plan.

The teacher said he had been looking forward to the meeting but that he immediately knew something was wrong because of her “instantly cold” demeanour.

He said there were none of the usual pleasantries and described how the mother expressed extreme dissatisfaction at her child’s educational progress.

Her son was nine and non-verbal and his educational level was at that of a junior or senior infant.

The teacher said the mother said she felt he was not being pushed enough and asked “when is my son going to learn to read and write independently”.

The teacher said the mother became really annoyed when he tried to explain to her the different steps towards learning to read and write including working on the child’s ability to hold a pen.

He said the mother went on to tell him that he did not care about or believe in her child. The teacher said he felt insulted by the comments that were uncalled for and not true.

The inquiry heard that the mother had complained to the school that since November of the previous year she felt that her child had regressed and that his demeanour had changed and he was soiling and wetting himself as a result.

Both men contest all the allegations

She complained that her child was doing “mindless tasks repeatedly” in school and was receiving “zero education in terms of subjects”.

The teacher told the inquiry that this was not the case and that he had been following an education plan that had been agreed between the mother and the previous teacher. He said that at the 5 February meeting with the mother he took on board her concerns and agreed to redo the child’s timetable.

At a subsequent meeting he said the mother had seemed happy with the new timetable.

The 5 February meeting took place at the end of the school day. Asked had he roughly removed ear defenders from the child and shouted at him earlier that day the teacher said that did not happen.

He told the inquiry that prior to the meeting with the mother 5 February 2019 had been an “unremarkable day”.

He said that prior to learning of the complaints against him as far as he was concerned he had six happy boys in his classroom and a happy teacher, that they had “good craic”, and that he was getting very fond of his pupils.

‘How she described it just did not happen’

A second allegation against the teacher relates to later in the same month. This is based on a claim by the SNA that the teacher tried to pull the boy off the floor by his arm in an inappropriate manner.

The SNA has claimed that the teacher roared at the child after the child hit another pupil in the classroom and then ran into the bathroom where he banged his head against a mirror.

The SNA has stated that when the child emerged from the bathroom the teacher again shouted aggressively at him and pulled his hand or arm after the child dropped to the floor.

This afternoon the teacher told the inquiry that the child had arrived in the classroom that morning in a distressed state.

He hit the other pupil before proceeding to the bathroom where he hit his head. He said prior to the child hitting his head a second SNA had called out his name “which probably startled him”.

He said it was not unusual for the child to drop to the floor and he said that he had had no physical contact at all with the child.

“How she described it just did not happen,” he said.

The teacher told the fitness-to-practice inquiry that more than one teacher had warned him of the close relationship that the SNA who had made the allegation had with the mother who has brought the complaint.

He said he was aware that they had gone on holidays together but that he did not know “what he knows now” in terms of the extent of the relationship.

The teacher’s evidence has not concluded.

Read more: Teacher and principal accused of professional misconduct

Earlier the inquiry heard from several other members of staff at the school.

A second special educational needs teacher said she had never seen the teacher shouting at a child, or pulling a child off the floor, or roughly removing ear defenders.

She said she thought the teacher was doing a good job and that she did not have any concerns about him.

She said had noticed a “massive [positive] difference” in two of the children in his room since he had begun teaching there. “I found that the children loved the teacher and clearly respected him,” she said.

A bus escort at the school described the teacher as a “lovely person” and said the children were mad about him. She said she had never heard him shout at pupils.

The school’s principal is separately facing an allegation of poor professional performance over claims that he took 19 weeks to inform the boy’s parents about the alleged incident regarding the headphones, despite having received a complaint about the teacher from a SNA a few days later.

Both men are contesting all the allegations.

None of the parties or the school can be identified on direction of the inquiry’s chairperson, Seán O’Neill.

The inquiry has adjourned.

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