Several graduates from Loyola High School are disturbed by recent anti-mask and COVID-19-related conspiracy theories shared on social media by their former teacher.
The former students said they felt compelled to speak out after the private school failed to respond to their complaints and considering the current teacher’s social media page was public.
“That’s very literally what he’s pushing, he’s saying that masks are mind control. ‘Don’t wear masks’ — it’s a terrible message to send to kids who could very well be spreading this (virus) more than anyone else,” said Ian O’Shaughnessy, who graduated from Loyola High School in 2000.
The 37-year old now works as a senior computer engineer in Silicone Valley and said he decided to file complaint with the school after first trying to “reason” with his former teacher.
“I felt I had to comment so I went and replied to some of the stuff he wrote, some of these falsehoods about wearing masks and mind control, 5G, Bill Gates and vaccinations (conspiracies), his response was pretty aggressive,” said O’Shaughnessy, adding that his comments were eventually deleted and he was blocked from the teacher’s Facebook account.
That’s when he reached out to Loyola to alert the administration.
“These are young, impressionable minds who are seeing these things and this is not a lesson that a teacher, a Montreal high school teacher, should be teaching,” O’Shaughnessy told Global News in a Skype interview from his home in California.
Another Loyola graduate from the class of 1998 was also disturbed by his former teacher’s posts.
“What worries me about this (is) he is a teacher, he has a lot of students that follow him on social media and those posts are harmful,” said Domenico Cotugno, adding that he remembers Ketterling as a well-liked and respected teacher.
“Everyone I’ve spoken to, my two brothers who also went to Loyola, have an issue with this.”
The controversial posts that date back to early July were erased late Tuesday after Global News reached out to the teacher.
While he refused our request for an interview, Michael Jarrett Ketterling insisted that he never befriended current students on his Facebook page.
“That is against my school’s policy,” he wrote. “The students you are interviewing are lying.”
The former students insist they have no ill will towards Ketterling, they just want him to stop spreading what they consider to be false and damaging information.
“I went to Loyola. I think it’s a great school; I’d love to send my sons there someday,” said Cotugno.
“That’s what’s especially saddening to me, is that they’ve taken no action to rein in this character.”
In a statement to Global News that was also sent to student’s parents on Wednesday, Loyola High School said they were “deeply concerned by the situation,” and that the posts and comments “do not reflect the beliefs, opinions, and policies of Loyola.”
The school’s administration has been in contact with the teacher and said it will “continue our inquiry into this matter.”
Conspiracy theories are nothing new, according to the director of McGill University’s Office for Science and Society, but they seem to have surged during the pandemic.
“I guess people have more time sitting at home, and of course whenever we have a situation where we don’t have all of the answers and science doesn’t have all of the answers, then the pseudoscience seekers rush to fill the vacuum and this is what we’re seeing,” said Dr. Joe Schwarcz.
Schwarcz was able to view the posts and comments before they were deleted, including memes with messages like “Danger, you are being conditioned to view your freedom as selfish” and “this is a mind control device,” written over the picture of a surgical face mask.
“It’s very worrisome because educators are in a position of power and students look up to professors and teachers,” said Scwarcz. “To suggest that there’s this conspiracy to somehow keep people sick by making them wear masks I mean what can you say to that?”
Schwarcz encourages people to report such posts to Facebook.
“Facebook is trying to do some control over what’s posted,” said Scwarcz. “We do have free speech unfortunately in some cases.”
The hope now is that educators like Ketterling will stop spreading what’s seen as false and damaging information on public platforms and within the walls of the school.
“If you want to hold views that are fringe and strange you’re free to do so,” said O’Shaughnessy,. “To simply publish them for all your students to see, I actually found that to be deeply disturbing.”
Read the entire statement from Loyola High School below:
Loyola High School was notified that a member of our faculty uploaded controversial posts and comments regarding the COVID-19 pandemic to a social media platform. These posts and comments do not reflect the beliefs, opinions, and policies of Loyola.
Loyola believes that all life is sacred, and is a gift from God. Thus, reverence for life includes the desire to care for all people, especially the most vulnerable during a time of pandemic. We are a community that believes first and foremost in standing in solidarity with those in need, and providing love and support to the marginalized.
In order to accomplish this mission, Loyola follows and aims to surpass public health guidelines set by the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, CNESST, and the Public Health Agency of Canada, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We recognize that COVID-19 has the potential to cause severe illness, and public health precautions that include physical distancing, good hand hygiene, and face masks, must be followed to reduce the risk to our community. The health and safety of our students, staff, and all people, are of the highest importance. As a learning institution devoted to academic excellence and spiritual development, we value the principles of scientific research and evidence-based policy.
We encourage all community members to be responsible when sharing information on social media, and to ensure that we protect the vulnerable by sharing information regarding COVID-19 that are from reliable, credible sources, and reflect the best available evidence and public health guidance.
For the protection of young people, Loyola has a professional boundaries policy that clearly outlines that staff are not permitted to interact with students on social media. We will be reviewing and updating these guidelines to include Loyola’s denunciation of public posts that are contrary to moral principles, school policy, public health directives, or that in any way compromise the formation and development of young people.
We are deeply concerned by this situation, and we are committed to taking it seriously. When we became aware of this situation, we immediately contacted the former students who expressed concern, and we have been in contact with the faculty member in question. We will continue our inquiry into this matter.
As a community we continue to pray for all those who have been affected by the pandemic.