A 14-year-old girl was removed from the King’s Hospital school in west Dublin by her mother because of alleged intimidation and bullying that worsened after complaints were made to the school.
In a detailed letter to the principal, John Rafter, which was copied to the school’s board of management, the child’s mother said her daughter had been severely affected by the incidents: “I will not stay quiet and sit on the fence watching it get worse.”
Several meetings were held over two months with the school, but the mother complained in a final letter to King’s Hospital that she found the level of care given to her daughter to be “extremely disappointing and alarming”.
“Surely the school is aware of a situation like this that it would get worse before it gets better, therefore the victim has to be protected,” she told the principal, in one communication seen by The Irish Times.
However, Mr Rafter, in one reply, said the offenders “have been exposed and reprimanded by both the school and their parents and further punishment is not going to be productive in my opinion for either them”, or the alleged victim.
The Garda Síochána and Tusla are currently investigating allegations that a group of boys in King’s Hospital were recently involved in a sexual assault on another boy in one of the school’s dormitories.
The mother and daughter, who is now happily studying elsewhere, have shared paperwork with The Irish Times, though they have requested to remain anonymous.
For the purposes of the article, the daughter’s name is given as Sarah.
“Sarah went into Kings Hospital a happy, confident grade A student child with hopes and dreams like another other 13-year-old child but progressed from this to a child that felt worthless,” the mother wrote in one email to the school
Concluding her letter, she said: “As you can appreciate and understand Mr Rafter, I cannot take the gamble any further with my daughter’s well-being and continue to hope things will change or improve for her going back into Kings.”
She added: “Not only does she not want to go back into that environment - ever, but she would not be able to do so or deal with anymore of this on her own, it’s both damaging and unhealthy for any child or adult for that matter to have to cope with all she has had to - my child has suffered enough.”
The alleged bullying began during Sarah’s first year, when she felt that she was being picked on. Later, a cartoon of her appeared in a classroom.
“She began to feel excluded, not just by the boarders but also by the day pupils.”
Sarah was a day pupil. Initially, her mother did not pay too much heed: “I ignored it for a long time hoping Sarah would sort this out herself – as children do,” said her mother.
However, it worsened.
A series of Facebook comments made about her daughter and posted during the summer months between Sarah’s first and second year at King’s Hospital came to light in October of her second year when Sarah had returned to the school.
The exchange reads:
(a)“Omg … Sarah (not the girl’s name) is suuuuuch a bitch, she got her mom to text me
giving out shit.”
(b) “Omg f*ckin bitch what did she say?!
(a) “She said loads of shit about us being mean to her”
(b) “Omg she’s such a bitch! No 1 likes her anymore”
(a) “I hate her so much. She gave out to me for being friends with you!
(b) “Uggh I wanna just slice her up”
Another female pupil posted: “I wanted to stab XXXX and Sarah in the chest with steel knives”, before adding, “Yessssss finally!!. That bitch is out of my life”.
The Facebook messages were uncovered as the child’s mother began investigating her daughter’s significant change of behaviour, her general unhappiness and a growing withdrawal.
“She was being left out of parties, with lots of ‘Don’t tell Sarah,’ that sort of thing,” said the mother, adding that she had encouraged her daughter to “pluck up the courage” and speak to the school authorities.
The Facebook postings were brought them to the attention of the school, who assured mother and daughter of their support.
Later, senior figures in the school met with the alleged offenders and their parents, too.
However, the mother subsequently complained that reporting the incidents had “only made it 1,000 times worse for Sarah.
“The group of bullies were empowered. It was a nightmare at the time, to put it mildly,” said her mother.
The alleged offenders, she claimed, “told other students that Sarah had told lies about them and was a whistleblower. So, not only had she spoken up but she was even more excluded than ever”.
Saying that her daughter became “isolated further and further”, the mother claimed that one senior staff member had told her that her daughter needed “to get on with it as these girls are probably just as confused as she was”.
Outside of class times Sarah began to hide, “either in the toilets or the music room at lunch times,” said her mother.
“Her confidence and self-belief had been brought to an all–time low.”
King’s Hospital has an anti-bullying code, which states that it will not “tolerate any form of bullying – physical, verbal, or by isolation.
“Unkind actions or comments will be regarded as bullying. Bullying will be dealt with in a serious manner.”
It endorses the definition of bullying published by the Department of Education which includes “deliberate exclusion, malicious gossip and other forms of relational bullying,” as well as cyber-bullying.
Following the initial complaints, the mother was told by a school dean that “the main protagonists” had been spoken with and that a meeting would be held with their parents shortly afterwards.
The school’s code of behaviour was outlined to the pupils and warnings were given about social media. However, the school “strongly” recommended that Sarah return to school: “Running away from the problem is not going to help resolve matters for her.”
The school suggested that the mother might meet with the parents of the four girls involved, but this she declined to do.
“I felt that it would be like going into a fire,” she told The Irish Times.
A number of girls, she said, had made her daughter’s life “a misery and they, in my opinion, have not learnt any lesson, nor think they need to”.
Later, the family’s GP said her daughter was “suffering from stress and anxiety due to school issues.”
Following Sarah’s departure from King’s Hospital, Mr Rafter told her new school that she was “a high level performer, determined to do well”, with “excellent” results and homework, and always punctual.
Replying to questions from The Irish Times, the school said: “The King’s Hospital will always investigate any issues brought to its attention relating to the safety and welfare of its students.
“ Where required the school will always report those issues to the appropriate authorities. As part of the process of reporting such issues, The King’s Hospital, like Tusla and An Garda Síochána, cannot make any public comment on any issue that relates to individual students.”