The board of management of a school for children with special needs has won a High Court challenge over its decision to expel a teenage pupil who had assaulted staff, damaged property and self-harmed.
Mr Justice Anthony Barr yesterday quashed a direction of an appeal committee appointed by the Department of Education and Skills to reverse the expulsion decision and order the boy be readmitted. The decision must now be considered by a new appeal committee, he said.
The judge said the court was satisfied the appeal committee made its findings based on flimsy evidence including some that is now accepted as being factually incorrect.
The school had brought the legal challenge against the secretary general of the Department, who appoints such appeals committee, and against the three members of the committee itself.
The respondents opposed the challenge and his 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, along with a doubling of the number of assistants working with him.
The first lockdown due to Covid 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 that all reasonable efforts to enable the boy to participate in and benefit from education had not been fully exhausted.
The school board brought judicial review proceedings claiming, among other things, the committee acted in excess of their jurisdiction in directing it 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 that 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 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 the court found it had not. The boy’s right to free primary education was not affected, he said.
If he is 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.