The father of a boy who was forced from his school by a campaign of bullying on Facebook has accused schools of using conflicting standards in their treatment of cyberbullying of pupils compared to teachers.
Gerry and Liza Dalton’s 11-year-old son has not been in school since March because they say he was at risk if he remained at the Co Meath primary school.
Five pupils at the school were identified as having set up a Facebook page where some of the bullying happened, including taunting about his South African accent.
The school responded to the family’s complaints by saying it was outside the board of management’s remit to act because the Facebook activity and alleged bullying did not happen during school hours.
Four fifth-year students were expelled from a Dublin school this week for their involvement in a Facebook page in which abusive comments were made about a number of teachers.
Mr Dalton said they noticed the reaction of teachers and other groups to the case at Oatlands College in Stillorgan, saying that cyberbullying should be treated in the same way as if it happened in school grounds.
“There’s an obvious contradiction in standards there. We are disgusted that the school in our case brought in barristers to advise them that, because it happened outside school grounds, they had no role,” he said.
Mr Dalton said the family had made a complaint against their son’s former school under the Equality Act and were seeking legal advice about civil litigation.
The case referred to the Equality Tribunal concerns the school’s handling of the matter in the context of racial discrimination.
The 11-year-old’s father said they have just secured a place for him in another school so he can go into sixth class in September.
“He hasn’t had any formal education since March. We weren’t able to find any tutor under the home tuition scheme we were approved for,” said Mr Dalton.
“He was hugely excited yesterday to find out he is going to a new school. It has been a very difficult time for him, he’s been excluded from his friends and he’s been left very isolated by the whole thing.”
The Anti-Bullying Forum set up by Education Minister Ruairi Quinn heard this week that half of almost 1,000 parents who responded to a national survey have made a complaint about bullying to their child’s school, but more than a third of them were not happy with the outcome. A key proposal to emerge at the forum was that young people must be given greater encouragement to stand up against bullying by reporting it to their schools.
The Daltons have heard from many families with stories like theirs through the Meath Against Bullies page they set up on Facebook. It now has 270 members. Mr Dalton said their biggest concern is to have more accountability for school boards and a big problem is that the children’s ombudsman only has powers to make recommendations in cases like theirs.
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