Friday, October 21, 2016

Sweeping Under The Carpet? Bullying

An eight-year-old girl has become the focus of a case which now threatens to go to court, with the Balearic education ministry one of the accused. The lawyer who is apparently preparing this case is Marcos García Montes, a name that most of you will be unfamiliar with but who, in addition to a startling moustache, has a reputation for representing celebrities. Again, the names of those with whom he has been involved during a long and illustrious career are likely to mean very little, but they include the late José María Ruiz Mateos, he of Rumasa and Nueva Rumasa fame (or is it infamy?), and 'Rafi' Escobedo, who he defended in the trial for the 1980 murder of María Lourdes de Urquijo y Morenés, the Marquesa of Urquijo, and her husband. Escobedo was eventually sentenced to 53 years in prison. He hanged himself in 1988.

García Montes is understood to have offered his legal services to the family of the eight-year-old girl who ended up in hospital following a playground incident at the Anselm Turmeda primary school in Son Roca, Palma over two weeks ago. His law firm has said that it will be taking action against the education ministry, the management of the school and the children who were responsible for the girl having been admitted to hospital.

His intervention is a twist in what has become a distinctly odd case and one about which there are questions which need asking. The education ministry has conducted its investigations into what happened in the playground and has concluded that it was essentially little more than a scrap over a ball. The children, aged eight to twelve, who were involved in the "assault" have been given suspensions from school of between three and five days, the ministry saying that their behaviour undermined the "coexistence" at the school.

The education inspectors' report also says that the girl's injuries were minor. So much so that she was able to continue lessons. Only later was she taken to hospital. The family say that, among other things, she was urinating blood. There seemingly was some damage to a kidney that needed attending to.

García Montes's law firm disputes the inspectors' conclusions that the incident was just a fight. It believes the girl had been subjected to bullying, which the family have insisted from the outset, and that rather than a fight or a scrap, as the education minister has suggested, it was a beating.

After the incident first came to light, there were calls for the director of the school to be dismissed. Reasons for this call included the fact that there had not been teachers in the playground at the time. They had apparently needed to attend to a Down Syndrome child. An online petition was set up, which at time of writing has more than 44,000 signatures. This calls on the education minister, Martí March, to dismiss the school director.

March is not the only leading politician to have dismissed the idea that there was no bullying and something potentially more serious going on. So has the national minister of the interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz. He has said that it was a specific case of aggression rather than the consequence of bullying. Bartomeu Barceló, who is the chief prosecutor in the Balearics, has concluded much the same and indeed questioned the extent of injuries that the girl suffered.

The family is basically having none of all this. They say that they are being taken for fools, that the prosecutor is shielding the minister who, in turn, is shielding the school's director. March took six days to say anything about the affair. This may have been wise in that he wanted to know the facts, but his statements since have left the family infuriated. Enter, therefore, García Montes.

The things that have been said by the minister and others, such as the unions, point to a school that is operating in a difficult neighbourhood and to a need to reduce any tensions. There is a high immigrant community. In this context, one of the girl's sisters has said something revealing. She has posed a question. Had her sister hit those who hit her sister, would it have been viewed as a case of racism?

The school, the ministry, no one has made any statements about nationality. They are absolutely right not to. Unfortunately, and although the established media have veered away from this, one cannot prevent what is said on blogs and on social media. It is this factor, therefore, which is making some wonder whether the whole case is being swept under the carpet. But this shouldn't be a primary factor. There are others, such as why the school didn't apparently contact the girl's mother straightaway.

And so now a lawyer is involved. Meanwhile, a small kid has become the centre of an unedifying controversy.

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