Vicious Facebook attack on new Burnside High principal

20:05, Feb 08 2010
burnside
Burnside principal Warwick Maguire

A new Christchurch principal is the subject of a vicious online attack, sparking a police investigation.

Warwick Maguire, who became Burnside High School's principal last November, has been targeted by a group called "I Hate Burnside's New Principal!!!" on social networking site Facebook.

Some of the group's 202 members have posted threatening and defamatory comments about Maguire and criticised changes he has made to the school, one of the country's largest.

Maguire was on leave and could not be reached for comment yesterday, but second principal Sandra Sidaway said Maguire was not aware of the Facebook group.

He was at a wedding in the North Island and was not able to access the internet, she said.

Maguire, 54, went to Burnside from Wanganui High School, where he had been principal since 1994.

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Sidaway said that with 2600 pupils at Burnside, there was the potential for some to be unhappy about various aspects of the school.

Maguire aimed to make Burnside a better school, she said, but to do that he needed to make changes.

Senior Sergeant Pete Stills, of Papanui, said police were investigating the online comments.

No official complaint had been received but the school had made police aware of the site, he said.

Stills said the comments could be defamatory, offensive and seen as inciting someone to commit violence.

"People need to be very careful about what they say in a public domain."

He wanted to talk to Maguire before deciding what action to take.

Burnside board of trustees chairman Conan Fee said it was unfair that people could publish unsubstantiated and misinformed comments on the internet. "There is no real way for us to censor that directly."

Christchurch Boys' High School principal Trevor McIntyre said dealing with social networking sites was a vagary of the times.

He said pupils did not always realise that their online comments were available for everybody to read.

"It's a matter of taking aside these people and explaining to them that what they're doing is offensive and is published in a public domain," he said.

Internet safety group Netsafe's executive director, Martin Cocker, said teachers and principals were the target of many offensive comments on social networking sites.

Burnside High School has axed some of its itinerant music teachers but says no pupils are missing out.

The Christchurch school has also removed the requirement that every year 9 pupil take music, and is giving them the option of taking any two of art, drama and music.

Second principal Sandra Sidaway said the school was no longer employing three itinerant music teachers who had worked at the school for a few hours each week.

She said the move was part of a rationalisation of support staff by new principal Warwick Maguire.

Jill Westenra, mother of singer Hayley Westenra, who went to Burnside, yesterday criticised the music cuts.

"I think it is a shame they are cutting back on compulsory music because some children don't get an opportunity to do music, and school is their first opportunity," she said.

"It is an absolute shame because Burnside is a school that really helps children with music. It is really, really important."

Sidaway said the school still had 2.5 fulltime equivalent itinerant music teachers, and pupils were still offered the option of learning a full range of musical instruments.

Removing the compulsory requirement to take year 9 music reflected the new curriculum this year, she said, and for the first time, every year 9 pupil was studying a language.

"There is no doubt that traditional subjects which have perhaps been in a privileged position for a little while are now perhaps not as privileged because other subjects are coming to the fore."

New Zealanders being able to speak a second language was now a priority for schools and the Government, Sidaway said.

More than 300 pupils had still decided to take music, she said.

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