It was a Tuesday in June, in the dying days of the 2017-18 school year, when a group of veteran educators convened in a guidance counsellor's office and decided it was time to report the instances of child abuse they'd been witnessing for the better part of eight months.
Testimony so far in the assault trial of K-6 school principal Robin McGrath has alleged two women saw things happening since November that made them uneasy. The third woman testified she witnessed similar incidents in the spring.
They all saw these alleged incidents independent of each other, but didn't tell anyone until a student assistant walked into the guidance counsellor's office at the school in Conception Bay South.
"She was very upset and she uttered the words, '[I] just can't take it anymore.' I didn't ask for clarity because I knew what she was referring to," said the guidance counsellor in court Thursday.
None of the staff members can be named because their close relationships with the students could lead to the children being identified. The same ban does not extend to McGrath, the administrator trusted to run the school and all its students.
Principal pinched, yelled at boy
The guidance counsellor cried at times as she recounted the incidents she told to investigators after finally coming forward.
The worst centred on a small child — a boy whose specific disability cannot be named — who, as she tells it, became the target of McGrath's rage after she unintentionally led a lamb into a lion's den.
She brought the child to the main office one day after he got in minor trouble for putting his hands on other students. The guidance counsellor told the court McGrath overheard her speaking to the boy and called him into his office.
God help me, it just seemed to be the normal in the school. - Guidance counsellor
She said he pinched the child by the ear and told him he needs to keep his hands to himself. She testified the child looked to her for help, so she told McGrath to stop.
The guidance counsellor said McGrath then got in the boy's face, held his little head between his hands so he was staring straight in his face, and said, "This is not going to happen again."
She said the boy looked back at him and said, "It's not going to happen again."
The guidance counsellor said she never brought the boy to the principal's office again.
The little boy's mother sat in the courtroom crying throughout Thursday's testimony, her sobs cutting the silence in the room between questions and answers.
Anger was normalized, witness says
The woman also testified about incidents between McGrath and the child from "the shower incident," described in court on Monday.
His classroom was frequented by the guidance counsellor until November, she said, when she was told to stop coming by after allegedly witnessing McGrath get physical with the child on several occasions.
Similar to the first witness in the case, the guidance counsellor said she saw McGrath step on his hand when he wouldn't get off the floor. She also saw him carry the boy "like a bag of bones" when he wouldn't go to the washroom to clean up.
"Robin was so angry with this boy who was helpless," she said.
"I saw him once put his foot on his hand and apply a lot of pressure. At the same time, Mr. McGrath would have his veins very pronounced and there was such an anger behind him. When that didn't work that day, he would kneel down behind his leg and apply pressure."
The next part elicited tears from the witness.
"He couldn't ask for help but he was just looking at us."
She said incidents of McGrath screaming at children had become regular occurrences. She said she saw him curse at the children for their misbehaviours and wasting his time.
"I was so used to that," the guidance counsellor said. "God help me, it just seemed to be the normal in the school."
Defence attempts to discredit witness
McGrath's lawyer, Ian Patey, cross-examined another witness on Thursday, a student assistant who gave most of her testimony the previous day.
She went to the guidance counsellor after meeting with a special education teacher who testified on Monday and Tuesday.
Patey asked the student assistant what the teacher had told her about a yellow bucket.
She said the woman told her McGrath had dragged a student into the shower and doused him with water in a bucket. She said the teacher told her the boy had thrown up on himself, and McGrath dumped another bucket on him.
The student assistant said it sounded like he had the bucket specifically for that purpose.
While shocking in nature, that is not what the teacher told the court in her testimony. She said McGrath used the shower head to douse the child, and that it only happened once.
On the stand, she denied saying anything about a yellow bucket.
The student assistant also testified she long held suspicions about McGrath being rough with kids, and that she felt he had a personal problem with her.
Patey said all of this shows that a false story about a yellow bucket may have influenced witnesses to come forward with flawed stories.
Testimony continues Friday with the guidance counsellor remaining on the stand.