Youngsters at a Fleetwood secondary school have been warned about the dangers of social media after ‘nasty personal attacks’ were launched on the headteacher following a staff member’s departure.
Cardinal Allen Catholic High School’s chairman of governors, Philip Waters, took the unusual step of reminding pupils they face legal action if they post defamatory statements on Twitter or Facebook, after rumours swept social networking sites when it was announced a science teacher was leaving his post.
The confusion began when teachers at the school, on Melbourne Avenue, were asked to make an impromptu announcement regarding the teacher’s decision to ‘seek pastures new’.
While discussions had been taking place behind the scenes between the popular teacher and head Philip Mooney, red tape meant the news was only able to be announced on his last day.
But a number of pupils took to social networking sites to air their views on the matter, ‘vilifying’ the headteacher based on ‘misinterpreted’ information, school bosses have said.
In his statement Mr Waters said: “Regrettably, some pupils misinterpreted what they had been told, and a rumour that the teacher had been dismissed from his position was allowed to develop unchecked.
“Subsequently, a large number of pupils took to social networking sites making wildly inaccurate observations about the reasons for his departure, expressing opinions about who they believed was responsible for his departure, and offering suggestions which, in some cases, bordered on incitement.”
Pupils were told on the morning of the teacher’s final day in school that he was to leave, a move which teachers felt would give youngsters time to “pay tributes to a popular colleague”.
Some tributes were paid to the teacher on social networking sites.
Mr Waters said that, while many comments were supporting a teacher who was popular in his four-year tenure at the school, he said others “wrongly vilified the headteacher ... on the basis of ignorance of the facts and misinformation”.
Headteacher Phil Mooney has said the school ‘“regularly devotes” time to educating youngsters about responsible internet use, but said that, in this instance, comments were seized upon by others outside the school community to “impose their own views”.
He said: “From time to time, young people will make mistakes.
“Specific individuals in the wider audience that social media allows seized on what they saw as an opportunity to push their misguided agendas. Thankfully, these were not Cardinal Allen pupils.”
Pupils at the school have been spoken to by staff over the “grossly unfair” and sometimes “slanderous” comments, and parents have been asked to monitor children’s internet use.
Mr Waters added: “[Pupils] have been made aware of the damage that such ill-informed comments can cause to the reputation of the school and to the teaching staff.
“Children need to be reminded that misuse of such sites can be hurtful when directed at any person, and any distortion of the truth can, in certain instances, result in litigation.”