Judge criticises decision to direct school to readmit child expelled for assaults
Judge quashes committee’s decision and orders fresh consideration of the matter
Mr Justice Richard Humphreys: “It is unacceptable that teachers in very difficult situations can be left exposed in the manner highlighted here.”
A High Court judge has sharply criticised a Department of Education appeals committee for directing a school to readmit an eight-year-old boy who had been expelled for numerous violent assaults on staff and other students.
Mr Justice Richard Humphreys said it was clear that there was “a whole series of fundamental failures by the appeals committee”.
In a written judgment just published on an ex tempore ruling he delivered on September 25th the judge described the committee’s decision to direct the school to re-enrol the boy as “radically unhinged from common sense” and “riddled with irrelevancy”.
“The committee failed at the most elementary level to carry out its clear remit and its approach was wholly unlawful,” the judge stated.
He claimed it was “remarkable” and “almost unbelievable” that the committee had made no reference to health and safety in its decision.
The court heard there was a large series of incidents, including 37 violent events, involving the boy, who is on the autistic spectrum, at the school between September 2018 and April 2019.
Neither the student nor the school can be identified for legal reasons.
Mr Justice Humphreys said the committee’s decision was “manifestly irrational to an almost astonishing extent”.
“No reasonable person could view the child’s behaviour as anything other than a serious threat to the rights of other students to an education and the right to bodily integrity of both staff and students,” the judge said.
He claimed the case had reduced to absurdity the notion that expulsion was a purely disciplinary process that was essentially about an expelled child and their rights.
“Only a conceptual and jurisprudential misunderstanding of that magnitude can explain a decision so radically unhinged from common sense,” he remarked.
Mr Justice Humphreys said it was astonishing that the committee had made no reference to the school’s code of behaviour in its decision and that it had failed to consider the effects of the boy’s behaviour on staff and students as well as the likelihood of further violent incidents.
He ruled the school’s decision to expel the boy had come well within the guidelines issued by the National Education Welfare Board that permitted such a sanction.
The boy was suspended and subsequently expelled following a major incident on April 3rd last when he assaulted five staff members including one who was punched in the face and another who was struck with a hurley, while considerable damage was also caused to the school.
Although the boy’s mother made a complaint to gardaí that he had been locked in a bathroom in the school at one stage, Mr Justice Humphreys said he would certainly not conclude that teachers or special needs assistants had acted inappropriately.
“A complaint to the gardaí is not necessarily the most satisfactory way of thanking them for their efforts,” he remarked.
When asked later why someone had not taken hold of the boy, the principal said staff were opposed to a restraint policy as they were concerned about allegations being made against them.
“That is a sad commentary on the Irish educational system,” said Mr Justice Humphreys.
He added: “It is unacceptable that teachers in very difficult situations can be left exposed in the manner highlighted here.”
The judge also criticised the appeals committee for not allowing the school to be legally represented at a hearing which, if a policy, was “fundamentally disrespectful of the constitutional right of the school to fair procedures and legal representation.”
The appeals committee upheld the mother’s appeal and recommended that he be re-enrolled on limited hours.
However, the judge said the secretary general of the Department of Education, Seán Ó Foghlú, “for some unexplained reason” had made no reference to limited hours in his direction to the school to readmit the boy.
Mr Justice Humphreys said what the case was about could be summarised by the principal when she stated that the school had “a duty of care to everyone in the school”.
“Almost incredibly that fundamental point is not engaged with by the appeals committee. Not even a hint,” the judge said.
The judge said that most of the boy’s earlier behaviour before the April 3rd incident would have justified expulsion in itself.
The judge said the appeals committee’s decision “minimises if not completely sidelines the behaviour before April 3rd.”
Mr Justice Humphreys said the committee had “grotesquely rendered irrelevant the real harm inflicted by the child on others and the likelihood if not certainty of future risk of harm on such innocent persons.”
He quashed the committee’s decision and ordered the matter to be remitted back for fresh consideration.