Tony’s plea: beware the Social Media myths

Te Awamutu College principal Tony Membery has urged people to fact check social media posts with the school. Photo: Mary Anne Gill.

Social media posts suggesting there is a chronic bullying problem at two of Te Awamutu’s biggest schools are inflaming a situation which is being dealt with, says one of the country’s longest serving secondary principals.

One of the most recent posts, taken down late last week, said Te Awamutu College was harbouring an alleged child rapist, an allegation that Tony Membery rejects. Other posts allege bullying on and off the school grounds while one site carried a video of a fight in the college grounds.

Membery has been principal at the college for 16 years and a teacher for 40 years and told The News this week social media was out of control and urged parents to fact check with schools and parents rather than rely on social media.

Te Awamutu Intermediate Principal, Pip Mears.

Te Awamutu Intermediate principal Pip Mears said she was unaware of a post alleging bullying at her school, but she said the school takes bullying seriously by engaging in restorative processes and discussing any concerns directly with parents.

Both schools intend celebrating Pink Shirt Day tomorrow. The Mental Health Commission-led day aims to stamp out bullying in schools, workplaces and society by celebrating diversity and promoting kindness and inclusion.

Staff and senior students will wear pink to highlight the day.

New Zealand has the third-highest rate of school bullying out of 36 OECD countries. Those bullied are far more likely to experience mental health issues.

“The staff are committed to anti bullying practices for our kids to be safe,” said Membery, who produced the school’s Health and Safety policy which has sections on Behaviour Management and Non Violent School.

The intermediate school has a similar policy.

Staff will not minimise a situation but will always delve down to find out just exactly what has gone on asking questions like “is someone being mean, nasty or unkind,” said Membery, and how that makes the young person feel.

“We have done a lot of work with the kids, that there are consequences, that there are standards and expectations. We’ll do counselling, anger management, restorative meetings but be assured there are also stand downs or suspensions or exclusions.

“I don’t shy away for the sake of the whole,” he said.

The school has two counsellors and brings in mental health and drug and alcohol counselling expertise.

But social media was not helping schools solve problems they and their experts are well equipped to handle themselves, he said.

“Social media is addictive, there is a psychological aspect to it.”

Over the weekends, things happen at parties, and are posted on social media and come Monday morning it spills over at school, said Membery.

“There does have to be an element of faith and trust (in us). So that if something occurs, they’ve got to believe we will take it seriously and use the range of options at our disposal that is the best fit for our students. We’re not covering it up.”

People are reading on social media about speculation and rumour that has not been proven and the school is often unable to comment about because of privacy reasons.

“I say to people ‘you wouldn’t want me talking about your child to someone else’. We want kids to be happy, to be safe, and to have opportunities and friends. We know people with people, there will be falling out, there will be changes in friendships, teenagers still learning to regulate their emotions,” said Membery.

“We’ve got nearly 1400 students and there’s a place here for a wide range of children. We do want this to be their safe place.”

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