Teacher said she was ‘shepherding pupil’

Joanne Mallon of Young Enterprise presents Ceara School teacher Laura McConville with the Centre of Excellence Award. INLM2512-132gc
Joanne Mallon of Young Enterprise presents Ceara School teacher Laura McConville with the Centre of Excellence Award. INLM2512-132gc

Laura McConville said she had been at Ceara for 23 years and was in charge of the leavers’ class preparing pupils for after school.

She had known the injured party since September 2011 and most pupils with Down’s syndrome could be stubborn.

She had a behaviour modification programme where at the end of the day, if the victim had been good she could print out a photograph of Justin Bieber, put it in her scrapbook and take it home. If she was not good she could not do this.

“By September 2013 she had matured and her behaviour had improved so much. I couldn’t believe how good she was,” said the witness.

She had a good relationship with her parents and they had met to prepare a programme on options after leaving school.

Mrs McConville said it was a spontaneous decision to go into Dunne’s to get white mugs for the Rainbow café which was beginning the next day.

She explained that the injured party’s behaviour had improved so much she had awarded her a prefect’s badge and she was delighted.

The defendant said that on the day of the trip the victim was in bad form. Her head was down and her hands were by her side. She didn’t want to come into the classroom.

She thought she would have come out of her mood on the bus.

In the shopping centre the defendant said the girl still had her hands by her side so she pushed her by her hand on the back, shepherding her into the store to see if there were any white mugs.

She added that she put her hands at the top of her back with two hands on her shoulder or held her by the elbow. It was known as shepherding and if she had taken her hand off the girl’s back she would have stopped.

She had a rip in her tights and thought while she was in there she would buy a pair.

Mrs McConville denied grabbing the girl by the scruff of the neck and said she never pushed, forced or pulled her.

She said she was sorry if any of the people in Dunne’s thought she had humiliated the girl.

When she later spoke to Dr Cunningham she was given a precautionary letter of suspension and told to get her coat and leave.

She also strongly denied flinging the victim when she handed her over to a classroom assistant.

Under cross examination the defendant was accused of pushing the injured party around the store by the scruff of the neck.

She ‘strongly denied this’ saying she dealt with challenging behaviour every day of the week and in her 23 years had an unblemished record.

Dr Peter Cunningham told the court he was the principal of Ceara for just over 20 years.

On January 22 there had been an approved trip to B&Q specifically to get plants.

He received a telephone call from members of staff at Dunne’s Store. He thought they had the wrong school because Ceara did not have anybody in Dunne’s.

Dr Cunningham said that when Mrs McConville returned to the school she made no contact with him or his senior managers.

He waited about ten minutes and then went down to the classroom. He asked her about the morning and she said it was fine.

The witness said just the two of them went to another room and he asked her if she had been in Dunne’s Store but she made no response.

He said she was made aware of the allegations and she replied ‘it’s their perception, I don’t see what the big issue is’.

Dr Cunningham told the court he asked her if she had pushed the child and she said ‘no’. She admitted removing the prefect’s badge.

Under cross examination he said that when speaking to Mrs McConville that morning he asked how the children were and was told the injured party was ‘in a sulky mood’.

He explained that through Team Teach shepherding was something that was taught.

“Say you were out with a child who was not moving or obstructive if the shepherding technique is used there is nothing wrong with that,” he added.