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The Citizen, Ottawa, 17 December 1979
Board report revealed
Principal admits 'public' strapping deliberate action
By Jane Taber
Kanata principal Margaret McGrath has admitted to Carleton Separate School Board investigators that she deliberately left the school public address system on while strapping four students, The Citizen has learned.
McGrath has been reprimanded, but an investigator's report to be released Tuesday does not say how.
The report also says while the decision to leave the PA system on was an "unfortunate decision," the strapping itself was in accordance with board policy.
The investigation was launched in the wake of complaints by angry parents that children at Georges Vanier School spent sleepless nights after listening to the punishment. The students were strapped for throwing snowballs in the schoolyard.
Initially, McGrath said the PA system had been left on by accident. But parents maintained the action was deliberate and calculated to intimidate other students.
It has also been learned that the only witness to the incident, who resigned two days after the Dec. 5 strappings, returned to work last week.
Secretary Lillian Sheehan resigned because she was upset by the incident. She could not be reached for comment Sunday.
The report, compiled by superintendent John McGuinness, does not say who was interviewed during the investigation and makes no mention of Sheehan.
It recommends the board review its strapping policy and that teachers, not office staff, be used as witnesses.
Also included in the report is a memo from the CSSB English-language Principals' Association supporting corporal punishment and retention of the strap.
Trustee Irving Bansfield, who has tried unsuccessfully for several years to have corporal punishment banned in CSSB schools, said he does not agree with recommendations made in the report.
By recommending that teachers be the only witnesses to strapping, the report is suggesting that corporal punishment become part of education, he said.
The Citizen, Ottawa, 20 December 1979
Principal 'begs forgiveness' for strappings
By Rick Laiken
Georges Vanier Separate School principal Margaret McGrath begged forgiveness Wednesday for having lied about deliberately broadcasting the strapping of four children through the school's public address system.
McGrath told about 70 parents gathered in the Kanata primary school's auditorium she was wrong to have turned on the PA system during the Dec. 5 strapping and wrong to have told reporters it was accidental.
The principal had already admitted to the Carleton Separate School Board she broadcast the punishment of four boys for throwing snowballs "as a deterrent to future offenders."
McGrath, given a mild reprimand by the board, said Wednesday she owed parents an explanation.
She said the boys were strapped after repeated warnings about snowball throwing, but "if I had to do it again, I wouldn't turn on the PA system."
The principal, who told The Citizen the morning after the strapping the broadcast was an accident, said she "deeply regretted" having lied.
"I was confronted without warning by reporters -- I had never before in my life dealt with newspaper reporters," she said. "I felt trapped. I felt intimidated.
"It was an error of judgment and I deeply regret this action," she added. "As principal I do not occupy a seat of infallibility."
McGrath, earlier in the day, apologized to the school's 450 students at a special assembly. She told the parents she had learned a valuable personal lesson.
"This is a Catholic school where we learn tolerance, forgiveness and love. I ask your forgiveness and I need your support."
The principal, who received a loud ovation from the parents at the end of her prepared apology, insisted "discipline will not deteriorate" at the school despite the incident.
"I can assure you I will be more careful in the future, but rules exist at this school, I'm responsible for them and I intend to carry them out."
She urged parents to "come and see me first" if they don't agree with anything that happens at the school.
Her apology meeting satisfied many parents and defused an anticipated protest from some who attacked the school board's investigation of the incident as a "cover-up."
The Citizen, Ottawa, 20 December 1979
Strapping splits community, despite principal's apology
The public strapping of four students, which focused national attention on the Georges Vanier Separate School in Kanata, has left a deep rift within the community.
At a meeting Wednesday night attended by about 70 parents, principal Margaret McGrath publicly apologized for having lied about deliberately broadcasting the strapping.
The meeting, called weeks ago to re-activate the school's PTA, which had not met in a year, ended abruptly after the election of executive officers and a speech by a school board religious education consultant.
The board's education director William Crossan, superintendent John McGuinness, three trustees, and most of the school's teachers attended the meeting to answer parents' questions about the strapping, but none were asked.
But as parents gathered in small groups afterwards, it was clear the bizarre incident has left a deep rift within the community.
"It was a trained seal show -- everybody marched in on cue and did their thing," parent Bob Smith said angrily after the meeting. "The teachers are backing her (McGrath) for what she did, so I guess people just don't know what more they can do .. maybe tonight just wasn't the appropriate time."
Linda Querel said she and other parents who are still upset about the incident were at a "big disadvantage" at the meeting because they had little time to prepare an organized protest.
She said problems at the school went deeper than the public strapping.
"This isn't going to be the ending -- something has to be done."
But others were equally adamant the case should be closed forever.
"The whole thing was carried too far -- the press blew it out of proportion," said one parent. "Most of the children didn't care that it was on the PA -- they treated it as a joke."
Mary Jane Donohue, another parent with three children at the school, said they weren't bothered in the least by the sounds of the strapping, which some parents complained had given their children nightmares.
"Their reaction was: 'Oh yeah, some kids got strapped -- so what'."
Teacher Steve Guerin denied allegations made by some parents that the strapping had devastated staff morale at the school.
Seventeen of the school's 19 teachers showed up at the school board meeting Tuesday in a show of support for McGrath.
While Guerin said he wasn't "personally bothered" by the public strapping, he admitted he and most of the teachers didn't agree with McGrath's decision to broadcast it.
"But I think the whole thing could have been handled within the school," he stressed. "All of the teachers have a good working relationship with Mrs. McGrath."
Teachers' union representative Jim Macpherson said the matter should be laid to rest "for the good of the community, the teachers and the children."
"This woman (McGrath) has been dragged over the coals for her mistakes. She's admitted them now. How long do we have to keep it up?"
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