Principal faces teacher boycott at Belfast's crisis-hit De La Salle school
The crisis at a troubled school in west Belfast has deepened, after the largest teachers' union at De La Salle College instructed members to boycott the principal.
A leaked document from the Irish National Teachers' Organisation (INTO) last night revealed that the union has sanctioned teachers to adopt a policy of "non-co-operation" with the under-fire school head, Clare White.
Parents - already concerned about how their sons will cope with the impending exam season - have described the move as unprecedented.
They are also in the dark over the whereabouts of Ms White, who is said to have been absent for around one week.
However, they have expressed relief that teachers will not be taking part in a full-blown strike.
The Concerned Parents of De La Salle protest group have also been heartened by the efforts of a new school troubleshooter, associate principal Imelda Jordan, to resolve the long-standing dispute.
A statement from the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools said it was aware of the latest development.
It said it would "continue to work closely with the trade unions and the school authorities" to continue to implement a "strategy plan" devised recently "and to ensure that any action will not impact on the education of the pupils".
The decision to boycott Ms White follows a ballot by INTO - which represents 57 of De La Salle's 70 teachers - for industrial action. Afterwards, the union membership held a meeting at which they "indicated their lack of trust and confidence in the leadership of the school as discharged" by Ms White, according to the leaked letter.
It goes on: "The action that they have requested, which has now been sanctioned, is one of non-co-operation or engagement with Ms Clare White, Principal."
The INTO letter, signed by the union's northern secretary Gerry Murphy, states that from Monday, its members are "directed not to undertake any instruction or advice given by Ms Clare White either in oral, written or electronic form".
They are also advised not to attend meetings requested by her or any at which she is present. They have also been told "not to undertake any teaching roles if Ms Clare White, Principal, is present or enters their classroom".
Staff were further told to deny "any information or data pertaining to their teaching or managerial responsibilities" to her.
Kieran McCormick, vice chair of the Concerned Parents group, said he believed the situation was "unprecedented. This situation is total chaos," he said.
He claimed that Ms White had been absent from her post for a week without any official reason being given. "Nobody knows where she is," he said.
Turning to the INTO letter, leaked anonymously, he said parents were "not very surprised" by its contents, but were happy a strike had been avoided "because that would be catastrophic for the kids".
"This is a very strong message," he added.
Praising Ms Jordan for the extra resources channelled into the school to try to limit the damage to pupils' education, he said: "There have been improvements; there has been progress made".
However, he said that looming exams presented a very anxious time for pupils and their parents.
"There is real anxiety ahead of August when the exam results are out and the impact this all may have had on the young people," he said.
Last month, De La Salle's head boy Peter Heenan said the dispute had distressed pupils in both "an emotional and educational sense".
Difficulties at the school first came to public attention last November, after mass absenteeism by teachers. Relations between staff and management have continued to deteriorate ever since.
The Concerned Parents group has demanded a full and independent investigation into the school's management. However, Education Minister John O'Dowd has refused.
On Monday, Ms Jordan launched a daily briefing for parents to enhance communication and has also started a homework club to reassure students.