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Principal threatened a child with scissors, grabbed students' faces, witnesses tell the court in St. John's

The trial of elementary school principal Robin McGrath continued in Provincial Court in St. John's Wednesday with testimony from two more witnesses: a substitute special needs teacher and a student assistant, who both testified to incidents where McGrath is alleged to have threatened and assaulted children. McGrath's lawyers are suggesting the incidents did ont take place as the witnesses described and the principal had been acting as necessary to address the children's behavioural issues in some cases.
The trial of elementary school principal Robin McGrath continued in Provincial Court in St. John's Wednesday with testimony from two more witnesses: a substitute special needs teacher and a student assistant, who both testified to incidents where McGrath is alleged to have threatened and assaulted children. McGrath's lawyers are suggesting the incidents didn't take place as the witnesses described and the principal had been acting as necessary to address the children's behavioural issues in some cases. — Tara Bradbury

On the third day of Robin McGrath's trial, testimony is heard from two staff members of C.B.S. elementary school

ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

The trial of a school principal accused of assaulting and threatening children with special needs continued Wednesday with testimony from two more school staff members, including a student assistant whose report to the school district led to the police getting involved.

Robin McGrath is on trial at provincial court in St. John’s on charges of assaulting and threatening students with special needs at a Conception Bay South elementary school during the 2017-2018 school year.

The third witness called to testify by prosecutor Shawn Patten, a student assistant, told the court she had been present in McGrath’s office as he was disciplining two children. Both of them had special needs.

The woman said she saw McGrath grab the cheeks of the first boy with two hands and yell in his face before pushing him away.

“He roughly pushed him away, he didn’t just let go of his face,” the woman said. “To me, the way (the boy) was pushed aside, he could have lost his balance."

The child was quiet and just nodded his head as McGrath yelled at him, saying “OK, OK, OK” and leaving after he was pushed away, the assistant testified.

McGrath then turned his attention to the younger child, the woman said, grabbing that boy’s face and yelling at him in the same way.

“(McGrath) put both hands on both sides of (the child’s) face so the eye contact was there. (The child) did not seem to understand what was going on,” the woman told the court.

At another point, McGrath lifted the front legs of the chair in which the boy was sitting off the ground in anger, then repeatedly slammed it back to the ground, according to the woman. The child was visibly scared and holding onto the seat of the chair, she said.

“He cried, and I tried to get the principal to stop,” the woman testified.

“Afterwards, he was obsessing about the situation. I told him it’s OK, we’ll deal with it later.”

The boy wasn’t himself for a few days after that, the assistant said.

On cross-examination, defence lawyer Ian Patey submitted McGrath, who is expected to testify later in his trial, didn’t do the things the assistant had alleged.

“Mr. McGrath will say he did not push (the first child) and did not grab his face. What do you say to that?” Patey asked the woman.

“I don’t agree. I know what I saw,” she replied.

“Were you aware that Mr. McGrath had the understanding that being firm with (the second child) was a suggested means of getting his attention and compliance?” Patey continued.

“I don’t think anyone has ever suggested that. I’d like to see where that’s written in a full script,” the woman responded, describing McGrath as having “overstepped his boundaries.”

Patey continued, asking the woman what she would say to the suggestion that McGrath had lifted the boy’s chair only to move it over his foot as he turned it towards him.

“No. He lifted it straight up and slammed it down four or five times. (The child) started to cry,” the woman replied.

The court has heard the assistant shared her concerns about the incidents in McGrath’s office with a special needs teacher at the school and indicated she was going to make a complaint. Once she spoke to the school district, she was directed to speak to police, she said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the court heard from a substitute special needs teacher at the school who described an incident in which McGrath had allegedly threatened another student with scissors.

The student, who had developmental delays, had pulled the wires out of his classroom’s smartboard, she said. McGrath came into the classroom later in the day, as she was helping the boy with schoolwork.

The teacher said McGrath asked her to get him a pair of scissors from a locked cupboard. He then held them up to the child and told him, “If you do it again I’ll chop off your fingers.”

“(The boy) looked at me, surprised,” the teacher said. “I don’t know that he knew Mr. McGrath wasn’t going to do that, but I didn’t think he would.

“I had no concerns that there was an intention to harm (the boy), I just thought it was an attempt to correct the behaviour.”

Patey asked the teacher whether it was possible McGrath had instead said to the child, “Get out of that before you cut your fingers off.” The boy was reported to have attempted to cut his own hand in the past, Patey noted.

“I never heard it, but I guess it’s something someone would say to any student it they were attempting to cut themselves with scissors,” the teacher replied.

The child had not been using scissors at the time, she indicated.

The court previously heard from another special education teacher, who said she had witnessed McGrath assault the same boy on a number of occasions. She testified she had seen the principal step on the boy’s hand until he cried out in pain in an effort to make him get off the floor; knee the boy in the back as he dragged him to another room; dig his thumb into the boy’s collarbone area until he cried out; and tip the boy out of his chair, drag him to the washroom and douse him with cold water in the shower until he vomited as punishment for refusing to go to music class.

Defence lawyer Tom Johnson questioned the teacher on why she never reported any of those alleged incidents until after the student assistant had come forward to make a report.

The teacher said she had been threatened and intimidated by McGrath and had been too terrified to say anything.

McGrath’s trial continues Thursday afternoon.

Twitter: @tara_bradbury


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