THE principal of a County Limerick school which has been at the centre of a media storm since 28 students were suspended for ‘liking’ an offensive post on Facebook has categorically denied that he was the victim of the post.
Speculation has been rife since the story broke on March 12, that it was, in fact, the principal of Colaiste Chiarain in Croom, Noel Malone, who was the target of the distasteful imagery and comments on the post.
“Absolutely not,” said Mr Malone this Wednesday.
“I have heard stories that my son was involved, my children - no, it certainly was not. It was a member of the school community. I am featured on all sorts of sites but I can absolutely categorically say that I wasn’t the victim in this particular case,” he added.
The school principal also hit back at claims this week by city councillor and school teacher, Tom Shortt, that the school was exploiting the issue.
“Unlike at Croom, other schools are dealing with the problem discreetly and sensitively and are not exploiting the issue for publicity in order to promote their school,” said Cllr Shortt.
According to Mr Malone he “didn’t have a choice” in terms of the story being reported - “it was either try and kind of manage the story, or ye [the Leader] go with it.”
Mr Malone said the issue had been dealt with within the school and they had “moved on” and were then left with no alternative but to respond to queries from the Leader when this newspaper became aware of the incident.
“It is just a pity he thinks like that,” said Mr Malone of Cllr Shortt’s comments.
“That’s not the response I am getting from people all over the country - from principals and deputy principals. They have been very positive. This is not about Colaiste Chiarain. Why would a school want to be going out there on an issue like this? There is no issue at all in terms of exploitation – quite the opposite,” he said.
“It was a matter of trying to respond to the situation in a positive way or just ignore it. It would be irresponsible to ignore such a serious issue.”
Mr Malone was in Dublin this week where he told representatives of an Oireachtas Transport and Communications Committee of the dangers of social media websites such as Facebook.
“The meeting went excellently,” said Mr Malone.
“They are going back to their full committee and I think it is likely that they are going to write formally to Facebook with questions. I expect that the matter is going to progress. We are also, I understand, going to be making a formal submission on behalf of the National Principals and Deputy Principals Association to the committee regarding the things we are looking for,” he explained.
According to Mr Malone there are two fundamental issues which need to be addressed. The first issue, he explained, is the response by social media to issues that are raised by a principal, deputy principal or designated person in a primary or secondary school. “That needs to be in place very quickly. When it comes to people’s lives, there needs to be a quicker response,” he said.
The second issue, he said, is the need to devote a half day each year in each primary and post primary student school across the country, to training and educating students and staff on social media.
“The internet is changing very rapidly and we have to keep up with it. We can’t put the genie back in the bottle. It is a wonderful tool and we need to understand it and get the kids to understand it and manage it in a positive way rather than in a hurtful or negative way.”