Two Welsh Teachers Stripped of Licenses after Student Broadcasts Their In-School Sex Noises

Logo_Ysgol_Gyfun_Gymraeg_Bryn_TaweOne of the interesting questions associated with the rise of mobile technology is this: How long it will it take all of us to fully internalize the awareness that our actions can be recorded almost anywhere, at almost any time? That is a question that celebrities, politicians, and star atheletes have had to consider for decades now, but the invention and phenomenal popularity of smartphones now means that we ALL need to be aware that our legally questionable, embarrassing, private, or even intimate moments can become fodder for the voracious beast known as social media. Just look at the role that smartphone videos have played in the growing scrutiny of law enforcement tactics.

Unfortunately, two Welsh teachers are the latest example of individuals who overlooked the possibility that a recording of their transgressive behavior could wind up on the Internet. In May 2014, the news broke that Graham Daniels, the 50-year-old headmaster at Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bryn Tawe, had taken a leave of absence from his position. (The school, which has an enrollment of approximately 750 students, is located in Penlan, a section of Swansea, Wales.) Initially, the school merely said that Graham stepped down “after a film was posted on social media sites by pupils from the Welsh-language secondary.”

Additional details, however, quickly emerged. A couple of days later, the school announced that Daniels and an then-unnamed colleague had been suspended. It wasn’t hard to figure out why. Numerous media outlets reported that the “film” was in fact a YouTube video that had been posted by a student. The short (34-second) video showed a series of doors, allegedly in the administrative offices of Bryn Tawe; as the unnamed filmer walked toward one of office doors, the sounds of sexual activity can clearly be heard. Forty-eight hours later, it was reported that the second person suspended was Bethan Bale, a 36-year-old chemistry teacher at the school. Both Daniels and Bale resigned their positions at the school a short time later.

This case is a perfect illustration not only of the havoc that can result from the combination of smartphones and social media, but also how challenging it can be for a school to effectively deal with this type of situation. Let’s take a brief detour to list just a sample of the issues that Bryn Tawe administrators faced:

  • Is the video even genuine? Let’s not kid ourselves about how incredibly easy it would be for some kid to fake a video like this by simply slapping an audio track from a porn video over a shaky video of his school’s administrative offices.
  • What metadata is available to help determine whether the video is genuine? Information about when a video or photo is uploaded can be obtained from the social media site in question, along with the IP address from which it was uploaded. A site like YouTube may or may not have other metadata for a photo or video (such as date, time, and GPS location), but that information most likely would be available by examining the device used to create the content.
  • A video of this sort is likely to be very popular. In the brief time that it was available online, it was viewed hundreds of times. Speed is of the essence when it comes to social media.
  • How can the video be removed from social media? In this case, the temporary headmaster of Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Bryn Tawe apparently asked the student filmmaker to take it down and he did. But it is not clear that the student had a legal obligation to do so, and since the video does not show any nudity, it does not violate YouTube’s Terms of Service. In addition, there is no information in the video that identifies a particular individual or even a particular location. However, the United Kingdom has different free speech rules than the United States (thank you, Founding Fathers), so the student may not have felt he had the option to refuse. And of course, even in the States, the combination of parental and administrative pressure can be very persuasive.
  • Of course, as others have learned to their dismay, content does not have to be online very long for it to be copied multiple times (Anthony Weiner, for instance, deleted his crotch shot roughly 10 seconds after he accidentally tweeted it to tout le monde. It still got copied and reshared dozens if not hundreds of times.) Given the nature of this particularly video, it’s no surprise that there are still copies on YouTube (here and here) and online news sites. The net effect, as it were, is that this video is now a permanent part of the professional history of these educators.
  • Not surprisingly, Bryn Tawe students took a salacious interest in the video and used a variety of social media networks to share it with each other. The administration even convened a school assembly and told the students that they were banned from discussing the video on social media because it was “damaging the school’s reputation.” Not surprisingly, as the following Twitter exchange illustrates, the attempt to declare the video an “official secret” was a total failure.

Understandably, the impact of the video on the student body was a factor in the inevitable disciplinary proceedings that followed. Daniels and Thomas (Bale resumed her maiden name following the breakup of her marriage) admitted to the Education Workforce Council that they were the voices heard in the video. They also admitted that they had been engaging in sexual activity on school property for nearly a year before the release of the video.

Here’s another significant issue that arose during the hearing: The amorous activities of Daniels and Thomas were an open secret among the school’s faculty, to the extent that other teachers referred to the pair as “Team GB” in text messages. It’s fair to ask why someone did not say something to either the headmaster or to the school’s board of governors before the social media machine was activated.

The pair were represented at the EWC hearing by their union rep Tim Glover, who argued that both are excellent teachers who made significant contributions to learning at Bryn Tawe. He also said that both educators had accepted responsibility by resigning and had demonstrated genuine remorse.

His arguments, however, failed to persuade the Council. Chair Jacquie Trumball announced that after considering all of the circumstances (particularly the period of time during which the incidents occurred), the EWC felt that Daniels and Thomas should both be banned from teaching:

These were serious allegations which could impact on public confidence in the teaching profession. The sex acts occurred on school premises when pupils and staff were present and they later had a big effect on the whole school community.

β€œThe unacceptable, reckless and risky behaviour took place over an extended period of time. Their actions were fundamentally incompatible with the standards expected of a registered teacher … and brought the school into disrepute.

As a result of the EWC decision, Daniels will need to leave his current job as a supply (or substitute) teacher and Thomas will need to stop teaching A level chemistry. However, they both can apply to be re-registered in three years.

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