School wins challenge over reversal of its decision to expel student
Posted on 10th June 2021 at 20:28
School for children with special needs chose to expel boy after challenging behaviour
A school for children with special needs has won its High Court challenge over its decision to expel a teenage pupil who had assaulted staff, damaged property and self-harmed.
Mr Justice Anthony Barr this week quashed a direction of an appeal committee appointed by the Department of Education and Skills, which had reversed the expulsion decision and ordered the boy be readmitted.
The matter must now be considered by a new appeal committee, he said.
The judge was satisfied the appeal committee made its findings based on “flimsy” evidence including some now accepted as being factually incorrect.
The school brought the legal challenge against the secretary general of the department, who appoints such appeals committees, and the three members of the committee itself.
The respondents opposed the challenge and the boy’s parents were notice parties.
The judge said the boy had been a pupil at the school, which provides a one-to-one pupil/teaching-assistant ratio, from 2014 to 2019 without any incidents of challenging behaviour.
However, from 2019 into 2020, there was a deterioration in his behaviour necessitating his removal from the classroom at break time and other periods and a doubling of the number of assistants working with him.
The first lockdown due to Covid-19 intervened and he returned to school in September last for reduced hours.
Within days, he was engaging in “serious challenging behaviours” which resulted in a number of assaults to members of staff, together with incidents of self-harm and damage to school property. They included headbutting a female member of staff, barging people, and punching and kicking holes in walls.
A number of crisis meetings were held, but no solution was found.
As a result of the events, the school principal, concerned over the risk to the health and safety of other students, to staff, the boy himself and to school property, recommended his expulsion. The board of management agreed.
His parents appealed and the department-appointed appeal committee said he should be readmitted on the basis all reasonable efforts to enable the boy to participate in and benefit from education had not been fully exhausted.
The school board of management brought judicial review proceedings claiming, among other things, the committee acted in excess of jurisdiction in directing the school to carry out more extensive inquiries prior to making the decision to expel him.
The department argued it had acted entirely within jurisdiction. It said the school code of behaviour specifically provided the board had to be satisfied all necessary inquiries in relation to an alternative solution to the problem, had been carried out prior to reaching the decision to expel the student.
Mr Justice Barr, in quashing the committee’s decision, said while it was argued the court should be mindful of the boy’s constitutional right to education, this was not relevant.
The issue was whether the appeal committee acted lawfully and within jurisdiction and it had not, he said. The boy’s right to free primary education was not affected, he said.
If expelled from this school, the State will have to provide him with free primary education in other ways, he said.
His constitutional rights were not absolute and the rights of other students to education and of staff not to be exposed to unreasonable risk of injury in a safe environment had to be taken in consideration, he said.
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