Expulsion of Leaving Cert students over sugar snorting video ‘harsh’, says judge

One of the students was told by school to sign a ‘confession’, court told

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan fixed next Tuesday to hear an application by the two students to be allowed back to the school, pending the outcome of the full hearing.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan fixed next Tuesday to hear an application by the two students to be allowed back to the school, pending the outcome of the full hearing.

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A High Court judge has expressed surprise that a dispute over the purported expulsions of two secondary school students who posted videos on social media of another pupil snorting a white powder substance during class has not gone to mediation. The substance turned out to be sugar.

Mr Justice Seamus Noonan said, while the school “may or may not be within its rights” to expel the students, it seemed “extremely harsh” to put them out of school “in their Leaving Cert year”.

The incident occurred, unknown to the teacher, during a lesson. The videos were posted on social media. The school was made aware of the incident by one of the boy’s mothers, out of her concerns for the safety of her son and other students.

Details of the incident were published in an Irish daily newspaper.

Earlier this week the students launched challenges against the school board of management.

On Thursday, Feichin McDonagh SC, for the board, said the students had not been expelled but had been suspended pending a final decision by the board, due on November 23rd.

A “preliminary view” had been taken by the board they should be expelled, counsel said, adding the school had followed the practices as set down under the Education Act in respect of the matter.

Seeking time to respond to the student’s actions, counsel said the proceedings were premature, and no decision will be finalised until the meeting. If the board opted not to expel them, that would make the action moot or pointless counsel said.

Counsel said there had also been an engagement with a facilitator, which the board would consider.

Lawyers for the students urged the court to list the case for hearing as soon as possible.

Derek Shortall BL, for one of the students, said his client was challenging his suspension as well as the decision to expel him.

Signed ‘confession’

Counsel said the process had been “poisoned from the outset” given another student had induced his client to video him, and the school had got his client to sign a “confession” after telling him he would not be in trouble.

Andrew Whelan BL, for the second student, said there was additional urgency as his client has special educational needs which had not been met since he was put out of school several weeks ago.

Mr Justice Noonan fixed next Tuesday to hear an application by the two students to be allowed back to the school, pending the outcome of the full hearing. In their action, the students, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, claim the board of management had decided they should be excluded from the school.

The board found the students had behaved in a manner that posed a serious threat to the good order and discipline of the school after a classmate asked them to record him ingesting the white powder on their phones.

The boys claim the board’s decisions breach fair procedures and constitutional justice, are disproportionate and expulsion flies in the face of common sense. The board also failed to take into account the fact the school principal recommended they not be expelled, they claim. It is also claimed the students were told by the school to make statements without being warned those would be used against them in a disciplinary process leading to their expulsion. 

In an effort to make the students provide a statement of the incident it is also claimed they were told they would not be in any trouble, it is claimed. The boys seek various orders including quashing the decision to expel and for their readmission to the school.

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