High Court Quashes School’s Decision to Expel Pupil With Autism

The High Court has quashed a school’s decision to expel a teenage student with autism. The 16 years old boy had been expelled in November 2018 and this decision was appealed under section 29 of the Education Act 1998.

The Department of Education committee upheld the decision of the school’s Board of Management and found that it was a reasonable response for the school in all the circumstances which included assaults and aggressive behaviours by the boy against himself, other students, and teaching staff.

The committee agreed with the Board of Management that expulsion was reasonable having regard to the school’s duty to other students and staff.

The boy, through his mother, brought judicial review proceedings against the Department of Education and Minister for Justice and requested that the case be sent back for review by a different committee.

Judgment of High Court

Mr Justice Senan Allen decided that the committee of the Department of Education considered irrelevant matters in arriving at its decision and the correct test for the committee to apply was whether, in its view, expulsion was warranted. The appeal of the decision to expel must now be heard by a newly constituted committee in accordance with section 29 of the Education Act 1998.

Conclusion

There is a difficult balancing of rights in all these types of cases.

On the one hand is the constitutional right of any child to an education; on the other hand is the rights of the other students to an education, and the rights of staff to work in a safe workplace. The Board of Management is saddled with the onerous responsibility of striking the correct balance and discharging its duty of care to all pupils and its employees.

Resource-Section 29 Education Act 1998

Appeals to Secretary General.

29.— (1) Where a board or a person acting on behalf of the board—

a) permanently excludes a student from a school, or

b) suspends a student from attendance at a school for a period to be prescribed for the purpose of this paragraph, or

c) refuses to enroll a student in a school, or

d) makes a decision of a class which the Minister, following consultation with patrons, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations, recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers, may from time to time determine may be appealed in accordance with this section,

the parent of the student, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, may, within a reasonable time from the date that the parent or student was informed of the decision and following the conclusion of any appeal procedures provided by the school or the patron, in accordance with section 28 , appeal that decision to the Secretary General of the Department of Education and Science and that appeal shall be heard by a committee appointed under subsection (2).

(2) For the purposes of the hearing and determination of an appeal under this section, the Minister shall appoint one or more than one committee (in this section referred to as an “ appeals committee”) each of which shall include in its membership an Inspector and such other persons as the Minister considers appropriate.

(3) Where a committee is appointed under subsection (2) the Minister shall appoint one of its number to be the chairperson of that committee and who, in the case of an equal division of votes, shall have a second or casting vote.

(4) In hearing and determining an appeal under this section an appeals committee shall act in accordance with such procedures as may be determined from time to time by the Minister following consultation with patrons, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations and recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers and such procedures shall ensure that—

a) the parties to the appeal are assisted to reach agreement on the matters the subject of the appeal where the appeals committee is of the opinion that reaching such agreement is practicable in the circumstances,

b) hearings are conducted with the minimum of formality consistent with giving all parties a fair hearing, and

c) appeals are dealt with within a period of 30 days from the date of the receipt of the appeal by the Secretary General, except where, on the application in writing of the appeals committee stating the reasons for a delay in determining the appeal, the Secretary General consents in writing to extend the period by not more than 14 days.

F41 [ (4A) The National Educational Welfare Board may, at the hearing of an appeal brought by a parent or student against a decision to which paragraph ( ) or ( ) of subsection (1) applies, make such submissions (whether in writing or orally) to the appeals committee, as it considers appropriate. ]

(5) On the determination of an appeal made under this section, the appeals committee shall send notice in writing of its determination of the appeal and the reasons for that determination to the Secretary General.

(6) Where—

a) an appeals committee upholds a complaint in whole or in part, and

b) it appears to the appeals committee that any matter which was the subject of the complaint (so far as upheld) should be remedied,

the appeals committee shall make recommendations to the Secretary General as to the action to be taken.

(7) As soon as practicable after the receipt by the Secretary General of the notice referred to in subsection (5), the Secretary General—

a) shall, by notice in writing, inform the person who made the appeal and the board of the determination of the appeals committee and the reasons therefor, and

b) in a case to which subsection (6) applies, may in such notice give such directions to the board as appear to the Secretary General (having regard to any recommendations made by the appeals committee) to be expedient for the purpose of remedying the matter which was the subject of the appeal and the board shall act in accordance with such directions.

(8) The Minister, in consultation with patrons of schools, national associations of parents, recognised school management organisations and recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers, shall from time to time review the operation of this section and section 28 and the first such review shall take place not more than two years from the commencement of this section.

(9) In the case of a school which is established or maintained by F42 [ an education and training board ] an appeal against a decision of the board of such school shall lie, in the first instance, to F42 [ the education and training board ] and thereafter to the Secretary General in accordance with subsection (1).

(10) The Minister shall, from time to time, following consultation with F42 [ education and training boards ], national associations of parents and recognised trade unions and staff associations representing teachers, prescribe—

a) the procedures for appeals under this section to F42 [ education and training boards ], and

b) which appeals shall inquire into whether the procedure adopted by a board in reaching a decision or conducting an appeal was fair and reasonable and which appeals shall be by way of a full re-hearing.

(11) The Secretary General may, in accordance with sections 4 (1) ( i) and 9 of the Public Service Management Act, 1997, assign the responsibility for the performance of the functions for which the Secretary General is responsible under this section to another officer of the Department of Education and Science.

(12) For the purposes of subsection (1)(c), “ student” means a person who applies for enrolment at a school and that person or his or her parents may appeal against a refusal to enroll him or her in the same manner as a student or his or her parents may appeal a decision under this section.

High Court Refuses Teacher’s Application to Halt Disciplinary Process

Are you a teacher?

A recent decision of the High Court may be of interest to you as it involved a teacher commencing High Court legal proceedings as a consequence of being asked to attend a disciplinary hearing.

Background

The allegation against the teacher concerned her conduct towards school staff including the school Principal. The procedures for the suspension and dismissal of teachers provide for the Principal to deal with the issue at Stage 1.

The teacher complained that as the allegation against her concerned her conduct towards the Principal the Principal should not be involved in the procedure. The Board of Management did not agree but eventually it was decided that the Principal would step aside and an independent person would be asked to deal with the stage 1 procedure.

So, the teacher went to the High Court seeking to prevent the disciplinary procedure from going ahead on two broad grounds:

  1. The Principal was biased and had prejudged the issue
  2. The teacher also argued that the procedures did not apply to her as they required the concurrence of the Minister for Finance

The Board of Management’s position was that they were merely applying the well-established, negotiated procedures which were agreed between teachers, unions, the Patrons and management bodies, and the Department of Education.

The Board also took the view that this was a matter with which the High Court should not involve itself as it was a minor matter which, at worst, would result in a verbal warning which would disappear of the teacher’s record after 6 months.

The Board also argued that section 24 of the Education Act, 1998 allows the Department of Education to determine the terms and conditions of employment of teachers and a board of management can suspend and dismiss teacher in accordance with the procedures agreed between the Minister of Education, the boards of management, the patron bodies, and the trade unions.

24.—(1) Subject to this section, a board may appoint such and so many persons as teachers and other staff of a school as the board from time to time thinks necessary for the performance of its powers and functions under this Act.

(2) The numbers and qualifications of teachers and other staff of a school, who are to be paid from monies provided by the Oireachtas, shall be subject to the approval of the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance.

(3) A board shall appoint teachers and other staff, who are to be paid from monies provided by the Oireachtas, and may suspend or dismiss such teachers and staff, in accordance with procedures agreed from time to time between the Minister, the patron, recognised school management organisations and any recognised trade union and staff association representing teachers or other staff as appropriate.

(4) Pending the agreement of procedures provided for in subsection (3), the procedures applied in the appointment, suspension and dismissal of teachers or other staff immediately before the commencement of this section shall, after such commencement, continue to be applied.

(5) The terms and conditions of employment of teachers and other staff of a school appointed by a board and who are to be paid from monies provided by the Oireachtas shall be determined by the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance.

(6) Where all or part of the remuneration and superannuation of teachers and other staff of a school is paid or is to be paid from monies provided by the Oireachtas, such remuneration or superannuation shall be determined from time to time by the Minister, with the concurrence of the Minister for Finance.

(7) Where, at the commencement of this section the employer of the teachers or other staff in a post-primary school is a person or body of persons other than the board of the school, then subsections (1), (3) and (5) shall apply as if the person who or the body which, at such commencement and from time to time thereafter, is such employer, is substituted for the board as therein referred to.

(8) Except in the case of an agreement as provided for in subsection (3), nothing in this Act shall have the effect of altering, after the commencement of this Act, the terms and conditions of teachers and other staff of a school under which they were employed before such commencement.

(9) This section shall not apply to teachers or other staff of a school which is established or maintained by a vocational education committee.

High Court

The Judge in the High Court held that any perception or allegation of bias or absence of fair procedures was adequately dealt with by the appointment of an independent person to investigate.

He also held that the procedures agreed between unions and boards of management formed part of the teacher’s contract of employment and were applicable and in force until they were changed by the Department of Education or were held to be invalid in legal proceedings.

Judge Binchy also noted that a verbal warning was a minor penalty and, provided there was no problem with her conduct, would be gone off her record after 6 months.

In conclusion the High Court held that the matter was of such a minor nature that the procedures adopted by the Board of Management were not amenable to judicial review and he refused the application.

High Court Application By Secondary School Student Over Disciplinary Fails

A secondary school student has had his High Court legal action thrown out by the Judge.

The background is the student was suspended from a secondary school over the allegation that he had sold €20 worth of cannabis in the school. The student admitted using the cannabis which was found in his schoolbag on the school premises.

He denied, however, he was involved in supplying the drug.

His application to the High Court was grounded on his assertion that the decision which would be arrived at as part of the disciplinary procedure was contaminated and prejudged as he claimed the school principal had contaminated the process by reason of his making findings of fact as part of the investigation stage.

He also alleged he would not be able to challenge the evidence against him at the proposed disciplinary hearing held by the board of management of the school and claimed an absence of fair procedures to date.

The Judge did not agree.

Premature application

The Judge in this High Court application said the application was premature and came nowhere near meeting the threshold for court intervention.

Justice Simons pointed to the fact that the school disciplinary process had not yet been completed and even when it was completed there was a statutory appeal process open to the student pursuant to section 29 of the Education Act, 1998.

This section 29 appeal involves a full hearing of the case on its merits before a committee of 3 persons appointed by the Department of Education. This should be availed of before heading off to the High Court, said Justice Simons.

The Judge stated that availing of these procedures would be cheaper and faster than going to the High Court and rejected the student’s application to judicially review the proposed disciplinary process. Justice Simons commented that this application could cost six figures in legal costs.

Interestingly Justice Simons also commented that school boards would be very slow to expel students if they are exposed to significant legal costs, even if they won their case, and a decision by him to grant the application wold have a ‘chilling effect’ on school boards of management.

In summary, the Judge said this application was premature and the student should have availed of the cheaper and faster procedures open to him rather than going to the High Court to try to halt the disciplinary.