The handling of the Enoch Burke case has caused some concern with teacher unions over aspects of how the case was managed and the grounds on which he was dismissed.
Mr Burke, who was employed as a German and history teacher at Wilson’s Hospital School, in Co Westmeath, was formally dismissed from his post on Friday afternoon.
It follows a disciplinary hearing which took place on Thursday at the Mullingar Park Hotel in Co Westmeath, which was disrupted by protests from the Burke family.
It is understood that Mr Burke is not a member of either of the two second-level teachers’ unions, the ASTI and the TUI.
Sources indicated there is unease over the manner and speed at which he was dismissed, while one senior union source expressed concern at whether a precedent could be set in the handling of his case. “We’re not involved in this case in any way, but we are concerned about the wider issue of teachers’ rights and we haven’t seen details about the grounds on which the dismissal took place,” they said.
Another union source said: “You would wonder at the speed at which the dismissal took place. It took place the day after the disciplinary hearing, which is very unusual. If this goes to an appeal, you can expect that every aspect of the process will be examined in minute detail.”
Sources commented that dismissals in the case of a teacher or principal with no prior conduct or performance issues have typically involved gross misconduct such as theft. “In cases such as performance or conduct, an outcome such as a suspension or retraining would be more likely, especially following a disciplinary appeals panel hearing,” said one source.
Under school disciplinary procedures, Mr Burke is entitled to appeal the outcome of the hearing within 10 school days. If he does so, it will trigger the establishment of a disciplinary appeals panel which includes an independent chair from a panel nominated by the Minister for Education, a member of a school management body and a representative from a teachers’ union.
Mr Burke’s dismissal will also trigger a report to the Teaching Council, which has the power to deregister teachers under certain circumstances.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that students at Wilson’s Hospital School wrote a letter to Mr Burke to complain that his presence at the school during his suspension was disrupting school life.
On the days that Mr Burke attended school, he was asked to remain in a corridor. The letter states, however, that some students were unable to access their lockers as a result.
Students said they on some occasions they were forced to remain outside in “cold, wet and windy” conditions, while the presence of media outside the school was cited as a disruption and negative impact on the school’s reputation.
The council also expressed concern that important student matters were not being dealt with because the time of senior management was being spent supervising him.
Mr Burke was suspended from the school last August and placed on paid administrative leave pending a disciplinary process, initiated on foot of a report prepared last by the then principal of the school.
It concerned Mr Burke’s emailed objection to a direction last May to teachers to address a transitioning student by their chosen name and using the pronouns “they/them” and his publicly voiced opposition to that direction at a school event last June. He alleged that such a direction was a breach of his religious beliefs.
Mr Burke was jailed for contempt of court orders in early September because he continued to attend the school despite an order restraining him from doing so.
He was released on an open-ended basis on December 21st last, after 108 days, without having purged his contempt. He continued to attend the school after this period.
After the Christmas holidays, the school applied for orders imposing fines on Mr Burke or temporarily detaining his assets. That application, which Mr Burke strongly opposed, will be ruled on this week.