Injunction granted to teacher facing disciplinary action related to work during Covid
Posted on 5th October 2021 at 19:43
School principal claimed the teacher had cancelled 67 classes without notice
A teacher has secured a continuing injunction preventing her secondary school proceeding with disciplinary proceedings against her related to her work under the “blended learning” system during the second pandemic lockdown at the beginning of this year.
Emer Lally has been a teacher in Rosmini Community School, Drumcondra, Dublin, since 2002.
Ms Justice Nuala Butler ruled this week that an injunction granted against the school last May should continue pending hearing of her full case.
Last April, school principal Darrell D’Arcy initiated a formal disciplinary process against her claiming, among other things, she cancelled 67 classes without notice to the school in breach of Department of Education and Science guidelines. There had also been complaints from parents of pupils about her.
She was accused of deliberate falsification of records by the incorrect marking of school rolls.
Ms Lally strongly denied the allegations and said she had experienced problems with the IT system used to mark rolls and did not intentionally mark any rolls incorrectly.
She had not marked rolls for classes that did not take place and did not deliberately falsify school records, she said.
An audit carried out by the principal of the Google Meet platform, over which classes were conducted, and of the rolls system, did not fully reflect her engagement with her students during the relevant period, she said.
No explanation had been offered to her as to why the audit did not include additional elements of the Google Suite which teachers can use — such as Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Drive, Google Forms, Google Slides and Gmail — to create, distribute and mark assignments and to monitor students’ revision history.
Lacking in detail
The report by the principal was significantly lacking in detail before it went to the school board of management for consideration , she said.
That report was later withdrawn and the principal prepared a new report which, the judge said, was substantially identical to the first one.
The judge said the situation had been complicated by the fact that the dispute underlying the allegations against her originally surfaced as an industrial relations dispute.
Most of the teachers are represented by the Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) while a minority, including Ms Lally, are represented by the Association of Secondary Teachers of Ireland (ASTI).
From November 2020 the ASTI instructed its members not to cooperate with changes to work practices in schools unless there had been a consensus among staff about the changes and that they did not impose obligations on teachers which would take additional time. The school maintained that there was no change in work practices.
TUI members in the school, including the teacher member of the board of management, co-authored a letter in February, 2021 complaining that a number of their ASTI colleagues were not teaching their fully timetabled hours.
Ms Lally, in her action, took issue with the legality of the first report prepared by the principal to commence the disciplinary process and whether it had been carried out in accordance with Department guidelines.
She also questioned whether the school board of management is now tainted by objective bias and whether fair procedures were being applied.
The school argued, as the first report was withdrawn, the matter was now moot or pointless and it should be allowed to continue the disciplinary process against her.
Ms Justice Butler said she would grant the injunction continuing to restrain the disciplinary process pending determination of the legal proceedings.
She said, among other things, the obligation on the principal to act fairly in the preparation of the report is not met simply because the teacher will have a right of reply.
If it is established in Ms Lally’s proceedings that the board of management is biased, then any conclusion reached by it adverse to her will be legally unsustainable, she said.
While the school’s wish to progress a disciplinary hearing into matters capable of constituting serious misconduct is understandable, that desire is outweighed by the potential damage to Ms Lally’s otherwise unblemished record as a teacher in the school, she said.
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