The principal of Markethill High School has written to parents following an incident whereby nine of its students were taken to hospital earlier this month.
Emergency services were tasked to the Armagh campus of the Southern Regional College on Friday, November 18 in what principal Colin Berry described as “scary”.
Mr Berry praised the staff who are “forever going above and beyond and dealing with events way above their roles and remits”.
He also asked parents not to blame the school but instead “please work with us”.
Mr Berry’s letter addressed the incident at the college in the days after the incident saying the “last few days have been very tough for us as a school family”.
“We want to be completely open and honest with you, but we hope you can appreciate that we are in the middle of an ongoing investigation with external agencies, including the PSNI, and the Northern Ireland Health and Safety Executive, which means we can only share what we are permitted to do so” before adding, “we are not shying away from the truth.”
Mr Berry reassured parents that the school “remains a safe and conductive learning environment for your son / daughter”.
“Sadly, the world in which we know is changing and the pressures facing our young people are far greater than you or I ever experienced. The world of vaping, the use of cannabis, amphetamines, etc, have become too readily available and glamorised.
“Young people are introduced to this rubbish by risk-taking peers who influence and coerce their friends into trying highly addictive substances. And before we know it, they’re using this poison daily.
“Unlike cigarette smoking, which caused problems during previous decades, e-cigarettes and vape pens have a much less recognisable smell and they are not picked up by the sensors schools have in their toilets.
“It’s not to annoy parents or to stress them unnecessarily but if we suspect that your son or daughter has been involved or engaged in something that shouldn’t be, we will call them out on it and we will keep you in the loop. We all need to work together to keep our young people safe.
“If we are wrong, we will admit to being wrong and we’ll hold our hands up admit so but our young people are under immense pressure to follow the gang and do what’s cool.
Mr Berry said the school “will never apologise for our efforts in trying to keep your son or daughter safe”.
“By the very nature of their teenage DNA some post-primary students are experimental. They thrive on risk and they don’t consider potential harm or consequences. Please don’t blame the school. Please work with us. Show our young people that the word and fear of ‘touting’ should not be non-existent. We need to keep each other safe.”
“We need this rubbish to stop being readily available. We need shops to ask for ID if they are in any doubt of a customer’s age. We need local communities to name and shame anyone who is supplying this material and we need to work together and show that this type of behaviour and action will not be tolerated.”
Addressing rumours around the presence of an ambulance on the school site in Markethill on the same day, Mr Berry added: “There was an ambulance on site at Markethill High School from approximately 11am on Friday, November 18.
“This had absolutely nothing to do with suspected foul play. A Year 12 Girl fainted in a science lab and unfortunately hit her head twice when she lost consciousness.
“A small number of students who attend the SRC took unwell after being assessed by a first responder, paramedics deemed medical attention necessary. A very small number of students were asked to remain at home on Monday and Tuesday November 21-22.”
Mr Berry reserved special praise for his staff and colleagues who were present at SRC.
“Our staff are first and foremost teachers,” he wrote, “and despite coming up against more and more resistance and challenge, they are forever going above and beyond and dealing with events way above their roles and remits.
“Friday was scary. Staff need our admiration, our support and our thanks. For now. we would really appreciate your ongoing patience and support, as well as your thoughts and prayers, as Markethill High School tries to regroup and rebuild following a very challenging few days.”