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Defence pressed witness on why she didn't report the alleged assault on students
As the cross-examination continued Tuesday, it was clear the elementary school teacher on the witness stand at the trial of Robin McGrath was reaching her limit.
Having been on the stand since Monday morning, the woman indicated she was frustrated with the line of questioning from defence lawyer Tom Johnson, asking him when he was going to be finished and raising her voice at points.
She grew upset when Johnson repeatedly asked her why she hadn’t reported the incidents of abuse she said she had witnessed McGrath, her school’s principal, inflict on a child with special needs.
The teacher told the court she hadn’t told anyone about the alleged assaults because she was frightened of McGrath and threatened by him.
“I was terrified, I don’t know what to tell you. I was threatened. I didn’t say anything until the end, but I said something when it was time. When I was called by polic,e I said what I needed to say,” the teacher told Johnson.
“I don’t begin to sit here and tell you that not reporting it was right. I have to live with that forever. I have to live with that because this man (Robin McGrath) right here did that in my presence!”
The teacher admitted she had not told the child’s mother about the alleged incidents, saying “that was wrong of me.”
She acknowledged she had been aware of the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District’s policy when it comes to reporting child abuse and had known of her obligation to immediately report the incidents.
“You didn’t report any abuse or mistreatment until the middle of June 2018, when the school year was nearly done, right?” Johnson asked her. “Even then, when you reported what you now say were assaults, you did not do that on your own; you knew that someone else had made a report, right?”
“I don’t begin to sit here and tell you that not reporting it was right. I have to live with that forever,” the teacher replied, crying.
She shouted and pointed towards McGrath as she added, “I have to live with that because this man right here did that in my presence!”
Looking directly at McGrath, she shouted, “You! Not me, you! I didn’t do this, you did!”
McGrath has been charged with four counts of assault and one count of uttering threats against special needs children at an elementary school in Conception Bay South.
On Monday. the woman testified she was working as an instructional resource teacher at the school, hired on a part-time basis to teach children with challenges. She told the court she had witnessed McGrath assault one particular child with special needs on a number of occasions by stepping on the boy’s hand until he cried out in pain in an effort to make him get up off the floor; kneeing the non-compliant boy in the back as he dragged him to another room, and tipping the boy out of his chair, dragging him to the washroom and dousing him with cold water in the shower until he vomited as punishment for refusing to go to music class.
Another time, the teacher said, the boy had been sitting quietly when McGrath beckoned her over and said he wanted to show her something. McGrath dug his thumb into the child’s collarbone area until he cried out, the teacher testified. She said McGrath then told her it was a way to get the child to obey.
“What happens in (this classroom) stays in (this classroom). We’re like the mafia here,” the teacher said McGrath told her.
On Tuesday, she scoffed at Johnson’s suggestion that McGrath had used the mafia statement as a way to imply the importance of protecting the child’s privacy.
“An administrator looks at me and says ‘What happens in (this classroom) stays in (this classroom), we’re like the mafia,’ and I’m supposed to accept that my administrator said that to me and he was making a simile to protect (the boy’s) wellbeing, after what happened? That’s absurd,” the teacher replied.
Johnson pressed the teacher on incident reports and notes she had kept throughout the year that had made no mention of assault and questioned her at length about a scheduling issue she had found unfair and had brought up to McGrath.
He said a number of the woman’s colleagues would be testifying that she had complained to them about the schedule and about McGrath, but never mentioned any abuse of a student.
Johnson presented the teacher with screenshots of a Facebook Messenger exchange she had had with a friend from outside the school who knew McGrath, asking for advice on the scheduling issue and calling him “a piece of work” with “little man syndrome.”
Much of Johnson’s cross-examination was focused on issues of rivalry, alliances and disputes between staff members at the school. He also asked the teacher about a formal complaint she had indicated to McGrath she wanted to make against a teaching assistant, then withdrew the next day.
The defence lawyer asked the woman whether massage and touch or pressure techniques applied by staff had been proven successful in helping the child in the past; she said yes.
Johnson indicated McGrath would be taking the stand himself before the trial is over and is steadfast in his denial that the allegations made by the teacher are false.
“I think we’ve established that he’ll testify to a lot of things I don’t agree with,” the teacher responded. “I won’t agree with them just because you put them to me.”
McGrath’s trial will continue Wednesday with testimony from another staff member at the school about an alleged incident involving a different child.