Tempest in a Teapot

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We need to hear the other side of this story

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.

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Recent comments

  • A Mom
    February 10, 2012 - 21:34

    I have to wonder if perhaps this teacher is also a mother who felt so bad for this little boy that she did what she thought would help him? Not meaning to do anything to harm the boy, maybe her intentions were totally innocent. Maybe she thought that by lightly spraying his clothing with Frebreez it would help remove or mask the odor... that's what the product is for. I have to side with the teacher on this one. And no, I am not a teacher but I am a mom who has sometimes made mistakes too. But all with good intentions! The boy's mother obviously is not that concerned about how it has hurt her son because it appears she is doing that well enough on her own!

  • joy
    February 09, 2012 - 12:01

    soory Geoff,I read it wrong,my apologies,for thinking you were a teacher and the person in questio was yor friend...sorry..

  • Peter Jackson
    February 09, 2012 - 07:27

    Geoff: I don't know who, but someone involved in this saga must have shares in Febreze.

  • Geoff Meeker
    February 08, 2012 - 22:25

    Joy, I'm not a teacher. And the teacher I quoted is not my friend. I'm still trying to connect with her, to ask some relevant and important questions.

  • joy
    February 08, 2012 - 16:31

    well,first of all Geoff,you're a teacher,and the teacher in question is your>> friend!!! So,in hindsight even though you are trying to be neutral,you are being bias>>>you are leading towards your teacher friend as the one in the right...there is no one in the right here....the kid is the one that has to Now put up with more bullying and teasing,and by the way,(I agree with you too Pam Pardy Ghent and your thoughts)I am sure the teacher regrets what she did or how she handled it,probably spur of the moment decision to make him smell better....by the way Fabreeze is a really strong scent!! Anyway,as for the Mom,maybe should does not know how to handle all this press coverage...and so what if she smiled...big deal,I would smile to If I caught all your attention out there people!! I am sure there is a bit more to the story.....and I agree with Pamela on the bullying issues,as the kids are still teasing him when he went back to school....that is what needs to be took control of,It;s the 10 yr old kid people that is going to suffer,it's pretty bad when you cant speak of for fear of being ostracized!! In which the kid will no doubt be,thats why most kids shut up and say nothing...sad but true....a Parent!!!

  • Colleen
    February 08, 2012 - 16:06

    Great post - much deserved. I was like you and was initially mouth agape reading the story. Then I immediately went to "I hope this is a case where there's two sides to every story", which is the more likely scenario. Let's hope the truth comes out in the wash and the boy is spared harm.

  • Ryan Lane
    February 08, 2012 - 15:17

    There are always many sides to a story and the media often present one. It's not right or wrong it just is. This story had a smell to it right off the bat, and I don't mean the fried capelin. As a possible piece it would be nice to see you discuss how this get such incredible coverage yet issues around good government policy that affect us all get left out. People know the answer, but I'd love to see you address it here.

  • Jason
    February 08, 2012 - 15:12

    Yeah, I think the mother leaves a lot to be considered here. She is only harming her child 1000x more with this.

  • Jeff Power
    February 08, 2012 - 14:35

    Great post.