‘Bullying behavior of teachers Middle School Ninove was a joke’

The ‘bullying behavior’ by teachers against pupils with autism in a school in Ninove was meant to be playful. This is what witnesses say in the report of the Education Inspectorate. He spoke to teachers, but also involved students and parents.

Kelly Van Droogenbroeck

“What has appeared in the media has been taken out of context and happened in the playful atmosphere of the classroom”. That’s what twelve second-year students say in GO! Middle School Ninove in the report of the education inspectorate, that The morning could view. The students all follow the OV4 trajectory, intended to prepare children with autism for inclusion in regular education.

In November, various media reported that a group of about eight teachers would bully and humiliate these students. One student is said to have been attached to a chair with duct tape, after which the teacher shared a photo of it with other teachers via WhatsApp. Another student reportedly jumped out of a first-floor window after being locked in a classroom.

The stories caused quite a stir. At the beginning of the school year, one of the teachers involved was preventively suspended. After the media reported, the Dender school group exchanged the current management for a crisis manager. The East Flanders public prosecutor’s office has launched an investigation into the school. At the request of Minister of Education Ben Weyts (N-VA), the school was also visited by the education inspectorate.

But according to testimonies in the inspection report, the facts would be no more than a misplaced joke. For example, parents say that the student is not attached to his chair with duct tape, but with ordinary adhesive tape. This happened in the context of a class prank involving the student in question. The student confirms in the report that he has not suffered any damage as a result. In addition, the other student would have jumped from the window of a classroom on the ground floor because he had to stay in the study.

Full confidence

The parents of some of the students indicate in the report that they still have full confidence in the teachers. More than that, their children would feel safe and valued thanks to the team and would progress every day. “That would not be possible with a team of monsters bullying young people in a WhatsApp group,” says a parent in the report.

Finally, the education inspectorate summarizes that, according to those involved, the stories and images in the media are “taken out of context” and “are not an expression of suggested aggression towards the students”.

However, there would be a breach of trust between the school in Ninove and the board of the school group Dender. The replacement of the management board by a crisis manager in particular did not go down well with Ninove. Staff speak of ‘favoritism’ and a ‘revenge action at the highest level’.

“The content of the report is very one-sided,” responds Els Schockaert, director of the school group. “The inspectors visited the school for one day. You cannot conduct objective and high-quality research on that basis.” Schockaert did not want to comment on the relationship with the school in question until all investigations have been completed. Ninove Middle School could not be reached for comment.

The education inspectorate spoke to a total of eight members of the ten OV4 teachers. Among them would be both the accused and other teachers. Together they also indicate that the events are the result of misplaced humour.

The absent teachers were the suspended teacher, who did not want to participate in the report, and a teacher who was supervising students at that time. Two ex-teachers who got into a personal conflict with another teacher in 2021 were not heard.

The inspectorate acknowledges in the report that tensions remain in the school. That is why a team of several inspectors will visit it a second time in early 2023, this time for an extensive inspection. The judicial investigation of the East Flanders public prosecutor’s office is also still ongoing.

IBSO De Horizon will also receive a visit from the education inspectorate soon. The secondary school for special education in Aalst is responsible for coordinating the Passtel project, as the inclusion of OV4 pupils in schools of the school group is called. The Passtel team of De Horizon itself admits in the report that problems have arisen in supporting OV4 teachers in Ninove.

New notification

In addition, on November 25, 2022, the Education Inspectorate received a report from a concerned parent whose child is taking classes at another De Horizon campus. The parent refers to the media coverage of the school in Ninove and fears that her child has been unjustly suspended and bullied by the same staff. In a follow-up interview with the inspectorate, she says that De Horizon’s autism coach did not take her seriously and accused her of setting the bar too high for her child.

On Thursday, the Education Inspectorate was invited to the Education Committee of the Flemish Parliament in response to recent reports on (sexual) transgressive behavior in schools. The hearing takes place behind closed doors, but the approach of such matters by the Inspectorate is certainly on the agenda. The case in Ninove will also be discussed.

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