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Teacher secures apology from parent in libel action over Facebook remarks

Roisin Corr, head of music at St Joseph's Grammar School, Donaghmore
Brendan Hughes

A TEACHER in Co Tyrone has secured a public apology from a pupil's parent in a libel action over "unfair and derogatory" comments posted about her on Facebook.

Campaigners believe the unprecedented case could prompt more teachers across Northern Ireland to seek legal action over parents' online comments.

Roisin Corr, head of music at St Joseph's Grammar School in Donaghmore, took the case against Caroline Coulter, a parent of a former pupil.

It centred on comments Ms Coulter, of Brackaville Road, Coalisland, had posted on the school's Facebook page in May last year.

As part of the settlement in the libel action, an apology from the defendant was read by her barrister last week at the County Court in Omagh.

In the apology Ms Coulter admitted she made "unfair and derogatory comments" on Facebook about the teacher, the Dungannon Herald reported.

"I take this opportunity to formally withdraw my comments and apologise to Mrs Corr for making those comments," she said.

"In particular, I apologise for any hurt and upset I may have caused and shall desist from any such conduct in future."

It's understood no financial compensation was sought in the settlement.

Mrs Corr, who has been teaching for 22 years, has been off work on stress grounds since last year following the online comments.

She said she was "relieved" the matter has been resolved, and is looking forward to returning to teaching.

"This has been a very difficult year for myself and my family following unfair and untrue comments posted about me by a parent on social media in both their own Facebook page and the school's Facebook page," she said in a statement.

"I am relieved that this matter has finally been resolved and that my good name and character have been restored and that the parent in question has apologised for and retracted their comments."

The 45-year-old from Moy also urged schools and Stormont's education department to develop a "robust social media policy to safeguard teachers".

"In the current age of social media a recurrence of similar events for other teachers is inevitable," she said.

"The impact that this ordeal has had on myself as a professional, but also on my family should prompt an urgent implementation of such a policy."

Mark McTaggart, assistant northern secretary of teachers' union the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO), said it was first time he had heard of such a case.

He said it was possible that Northern Ireland could see more teachers taking similar legal action as they seek to protect their reputations.

Mr McTaggart added that teachers regularly face problems over parents' online comments.

"It's becoming a major issue for teachers. We regularly receive calls to this office in relation to it – the school gates have moved onto social media.

"For teachers or even children in schools, there's a policy in place for these people if they use or misuse social media.

"The problem we have is that parents don't have that. They haven't signed up to any code of conduct which prevents them from putting things onto social media.

"It's something this union has been calling for – something to be put in place to protect teachers from things said on social media by parents."

The Department of Education said it is "unacceptable for anyone to be the subject of offensive comments on social media".

A spokeswoman said it provides advice to schools on online safety, but "organisations should have their own policies in place which they can draw upon".

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