I admit, I was taken aback when this story first broke.
According to the early headlines, a boy returned to school after lunch reeking of fried capelin. The smell was so strong that the boy’s teacher sprayed air freshener directly on his clothing.
Shocking indeed, if that’s the full extent of the story. But did it really unfold that way? The truth resides in nuance, and this is a story that cries out for full context.
For example, if the teacher had said, “WHAT is that stink?” and then singled out the child, dragged him out of the classroom and sprayed him head-to-toe with Febreze, her face contorted in disgust, I would call that a form of assault. And based on the early coverage, it was pretty easy to “go there” with our imaginations.
Meanwhile, the story caught fire and quickly made it to the national headlines. It has dominated discussion on all three VOCM talk radio programs. The online poll at the cbc.nl/ca web site normally gets 1500 to 2000 votes per day. Yesterday, they had a question about this story, and it received more than 9000 votes. The most popular choice, of four options, was “We want to know the teacher’s side of this story.”
Sometimes, there is wisdom in the masses. People, in general, know deep down that there’s more to this story that meets the eye – or ear.
This morning, I stumbled across a conversation on Facebook, in which a teacher in Twillingate was talking fairly openly about that “other side.” I have sent a message to that person, asking if she can talk to me directly about the incident. In the meantime, I will offer some of what she said here, without revealing her name.
Firstly, the teacher fairly bluntly questioned the motives of the mother who initiated this story.
“That teacher on the other hand is one of my closest friends and offered the child help which he accepted and then ran in the classroom and told the kids, I'm wearing FEBREZE!”
If accurate, that casts a different light on the story. The child appears unaffected by the incident and it’s not an issue until Mom gets hold of it.
There’s more from this teacher, but first, let’s deal with the Febreze thing. As I said, if the teacher had sprayed it in a mean, insulting way, that would be abhorrent. However, if she was talking soothingly and trying to help the child, that’s different again. No, she should not have sprayed Febreze directly on the child, because of the chemicals it contains. But, then again, people use that spray on chesterfields, chairs and even pillows, before planking down for a nap, so is it really such a big deal?
The teacher goes on to say that CBC “only tells one-sided stories,” but that’s not fair. I know CBC asked for comment from the school, but that was not forthcoming in the early hours of this story. And they are still being tight-lipped regarding the facts of the incident.
“All of the parents and students of that class have a meeting to protest against CBC this morning to tell the rights of it. But CBC won't listen, go figure! So they're going to the school board… That is 100% true. I am a teacher too and know the parents, was talking to some of them last night.”
All very interesting, and it has a ring of truth to it. But I can’t confirm the accuracy of this account until I connect directly with the person who said it.
In the meantime, there is the mother who started this whole controversy. As this story has evolved, I have become more and more cynical about her role in it. After all, the coverage is drawing more attention to her son – and may cause him more difficulty – than whatever happened in the classroom last Thursday. Further, she has actually given the media permission to use a photo of her child in media coverage, a decision that is not helping the boy in any way. I find it difficult to comprehend why she did that.
And she seems to be relishing the attention. She’s been interviewed by several media outlets, and has been all over talk radio. Two days ago, she told one radio host that any photos of her appearing in media coverage were taken from her Facebook profile. This, she explained, is why she is smiling in the pictures, despite the seriousness of the issue.
And then today, she is on the front page of The Telegram with a big smile on her face.
The question at the heart of this story is, how will her son return to that classroom, with minimal fuss and stress for that child? This is what she should be working toward, and what she is doing now is not contributing to that process in any way.
I think her demand to have the teacher fired was a bit much, especially if, as suggested above, her demeanour was kind and intentions good. The mother has apparently “mellowed somewhat,” according to the story in today’s Telegram, which you can read here:
The latest development, according to that story, is a letter of apology from the school board. In a nutshell, it says that the teacher regrets her actions, and has offered to make an apology to the boy in front of the class.
As far as apologies go, it doesn’t get much better than that. However, the mother received that letter on February 6, and is still talking to media about it. I think she is enjoying the notoriety – quite possibly at her son’s expense. In the Telegram story, she says she has “shielded him from media coverage.” Maybe so, but his friends and classmates are watching, reading and listening to the coverage. This boy can’t be shielded from mingling with them, nor should he be. I just hope the mother knows what she is doing.
On the other hand, if it turns out the teacher was mean and verbally abusive to the child, then I think the mother is doing the right thing. That is not easily forgiveable.
Mistakes may have been made here by the teacher, though we have no idea how serious they are. Mistakes may also have been made by the mother.
I think it’s time for the teacher herself to come clean. The other side needs to come out, either through her directly or through a school board release. My gut tells me that perceptions of this story will chance drastically, if we get to hear that other side.
I truly hope the media are working, through proper channels and directly – by contacting people in the area – to find out the truth of this story. They started this. I want them to finish it.