Ex-pupils rally to teacher

EX-PUPILS of a Newton Stewart teacher accused of bigotry and sectarianism after removing a student from class have come forward to defend him and dampen down an ensuing online hate campaign.

Sunday, 10th June 2012, 4:01 pm

The Douglas Ewart High School French teacher’s actions were highlighted in an article in a Sunday tabloid this week after Lee Heron from the town was removed from class, allegedly for wearing a Union Jack T-shirt on a non-uniform day – a claim refuted by the school.

Comments on the internet during the week have called for the teacher’s resignation and accused him of being “educated by Hamas”, while Rangers fans have used the issue in forums to publish death threats.

The story reported that 13-year-old Lee was told to go and cover up his T-shirt during a class on May 28 which was a normal uniform-wearing day, according to the school.

But other pupils who were in the class at the time have denied the use of offensive language.And ex-pupils taught by the man have contacted the Gazette to say they were upset to read comments about him on people’s Facebook pages, adding that any issue should be dealt with by the school as an internal matter.

Graeme Brown, who now lives in Sydney, said: “The man’s such a good teacher and I feel totally sorry for him. He was the best teacher I had as a student of Douglas Ewart High. Anyone who was taught by this man knows he is not a bigot and I have written to him to say so.”

And June Hurst, herself now a teacher who was taught at the school in the early 1990s, said: “Speaking with trepidation, perhaps something did happen which caused offence to this lad and that’s a shame for the boy. But what was brought to my attention on Facebook and forums online disgusted me but I fear this is the world we now live in. This should have been dealt with by the school, and only the school. To make these remarks on the internet makes these people no better than the words they’re using to describe him.

“It terrifies me that this hate campaign online could force this man from the town. I ask that people stand back and let the authorities deal with this. It is only for them to determine whether he is a good teacher, and that, as far as I know, is not the issue being called into question here.”

A father, who asked not to be named, said that the sensitivity of children was to blame for the incident. He said: “You can’t even look at a school kid these days without being accused of something inappropriate. It’s an uncomfortable world we live in and there’s no respect for elders. As a pupil in the 80s, if my teacher had asked me to cover up or change, I would have done that without question or suffered a stern telling off and that is how it should be - none of this tip-toeing around the pupils. The importance of an authority figure needs to be made clear.”

A spokesperson for Dumfries and Galloway Council said: “The recent press coverage of an alleged incident at Douglas Ewart High School has been inaccurate. The incident has led to an internal investigation. For clarity, the incident was not during a non-uniform day, did not involve the use of the word ‘sectarian’ and did not involve negative comments about the Union Jack or the monarchy.

“The school concluded its jubilee celebrations on June 6 with an appropriately patriotic school lunch and for the past week has been decorated for the jubilee just as it has been for St Patrick’s Day, St Andrew’s Day and other events which a diverse community celebrates.”