The High Court has granted an injunction halting a disciplinary process against a teacher over allegations she used her position to gain an unfair advantage for her son, a student at the school she worked in, in the Leaving Certificate calculated grades system in 2020.
The teacher, who cannot be named, faced a disciplinary hearing in November 2021 alleging misconduct because she made unwarranted representations in relation to her son’s subject-level choice in Irish.
It was alleged this was contrary to a ministerial direction, the stated position of the State Examinations Commissions, and an instruction by the school principal in relation to a departmental circular dealing with calculated grades.
Calculated grades were introduced due to the Covid pandemic in 2020.
The court heard her son was doing the Leaving Cert that year and he opted in January to do ordinary level Irish and took ordinary level in the mocks.
When it was announced by the Department of Education in May 2020 that the Leaving Cert exams would not go ahead and would be replaced with the calculated grades system, the teacher sought that both her son and another student should be allowed to opt for higher level Irish. Had they sat a physical exam, they would have been permitted to do so despite having indicated the lower level earlier.
This was, however, not possible under the rules introduced for calculated grades.
Arising out of her allegedly making unwarranted representations, the principal provided a report to the board alleging “stage 4″ misconduct – the most serious level of misconduct, which could result in dismissal.
She sought injunctions, pending determination of the full proceedings, stopping the process.
She claimed, among other things, the process was irreparably flawed because a report from the principal setting out the allegations was itself flawed and unfair.
She also claimed the principal was biased and the board had wrongfully considered the report at the meeting before it received a response from the teacher. The board denied the claims.
It argued that despite being warned not to do so by the principal, she used her role as a teacher to make unwarranted representations to official bodies, as well as putting pressure on colleagues and others in the school in her efforts to have her son moved to higher level Irish.
In a judgment, Mr Justice Conor Dignam said he was satisfied the teacher had established a fair issue that the principal’s report was defective on the basis that it made concluded findings against her and was unfairly prejudicial to her.
While he cautioned against parsing the principal’s report, the judge said he had to take into account the overall tone and approach of the report which showed it was not properly balanced and it unfairly prejudiced the teacher.
He was not, however, satisfied to conclude the teacher had established a fair issue that members of the board discussed the contents of the report before the meeting or that it considered the contents of the report at the meeting.
He was satisfied the effect of much of the language in the report would be to convey to board members that the principal, who they entrusted with running the school, has already found wrongdoing.
This was through the use of phrases such as “false” and “wilfully misleading” in the report, he said.
It was difficult to see how it could be said that the board would be able to entirely set that aside, he said.
He was therefore satisfied the teacher had established a fair issue to be tried taking into account the need to establish, at the full hearing, that the process has gone irremediably wrong on the basis of the report even though the board had not considered the report.
The judge did not believe he could conclude, purely on the basis that the principal was also investigating a separate complaint of bullying against the teacher by a colleague which had not been progressed, that this was evidence of bias, animus, bad faith and intent by the principal to have her removed from her job.
He said while he had concluded that there was a fair issue that this report is flawed, he did not believe that those flaws are sufficient to conclude actual bias or objective bias on the part of the principal.
He was also satisfied the balance of convenience favoured granting the injunction.