Northern Ireland teacher's libel case against parent who defamed her online could open the floodgates
A Co Tyrone teacher who secured a public apology for "unfair and derogatory" comments posted by a woman on social media yesterday told of her relief the matter had been resolved.
Roisin Corr (45), who heads the music department at St Joseph's Grammar School in Donaghmore, took a libel case against the parent of a former pupil.
Caroline Coulter of Brackaville Road, Coalisland, was forced to publicly apologise for defamatory comments posted on her personal Facebook account and the school's Facebook page in May 2017.
It was read by her barrister to the County Court in Omagh last week as part of the settlement, the Dungannon Herald reported.
"I take this opportunity to formally withdraw my comments and apologise to Mrs Corr for making those comments," Ms Coulter said.
"In particular, I apologise for any hurt and upset I may have caused and shall desist from any such conduct in future."
It is not believed that any financial compensation was sought from the defendant as part of the settlement, but the unprecedented case could pave the way for more teachers to seek legal action over parents' online posts.
Mrs Corr, who has taught in the school for 18 years, has been off sick due to stress since the comments were made.
"I just wish to return to teaching music," she told the Belfast Telegraph.
In a statement she expressed relief that the case was now behind her and said she was focused on returning to work.
"This has been a very difficult year for myself and my family following unfair and untrue comments posted about me," she said.
"I am very relieved that this matter has finally been resolved and that my good name and character have been restored and that the parent in question has apologised and retracted their comments."
The mother-of-three called on the Government to implement a vigorous policy in order to protect other teachers across Northern Ireland.
"It is essential that the Department of Education and all schools develop a robust social media policy to safeguard teachers, their good name and professionalism from defamatory comments made by others," she said.
"In the current age of social media a recurrence of similar events for other teachers is inevitable.
"The impact that this ordeal has had on myself as a professional, but also on my family should prompt an urgent implementation of such a policy."
The Department of Education said that while it was not responsible for school social media platforms, it already had a policy and regularly provided advice to schools.
"It is unacceptable for anyone to be the subject of offensive comments on social media," it added.
"Anyone who posts comments which are offensive, bullying or intimidating should be reported to the associated social media platform.
"In addition, individuals who make offensive comments can be blocked, removed and banned from any social media account."
Mark McTaggart, assistant northern secretary of the Irish National Teachers' Organisation, said it was the first time he had heard of such a case, despite online comments becoming a "major" problem.
"For teachers or even children in schools, there's a policy in place for these people if they use or misuse social media," he said.
"The problem we have is that parents don't have that."
He also warned that more teachers could take similar legal action as a result.
The principal of St Joseph's Grammar School declined to comment.