Legal action over special schools adjourned due to planned reopening

Counsel hopes it would not be necessary to advance the actions any further

The actions arose after the Minister said on January 19th the schools would not re-open due to what she described as a lack of cooperation from key staff trade unions.

The actions arose after the Minister said on January 19th the schools would not re-open due to what she described as a lack of cooperation from key staff trade unions.

 

The planned partial reopening of schools for pupils with additional educational needs on a phased basis has lead to an adjournment of High Court challenges brought on behalf of a number of such children.

When consenting on Thursday to the cases being adjourned, Derek Shortall SC, for the children, said it is hoped, given the planned reopening, it would not be necessary to advance the cases any further.

Last week, five judicial review actions were initiated against the Minister for Education, Ireland and the Attorney General over the failure to reopen schools for those children during the Level 5 Covid-19 restrictions.

The applicants sought orders compelling the Minister and the State to reopen the schools for children with additional educational needs.

On Monday last, Mr Justice Charles Meenan was told the sides had agreed the cases could proceed via telescoped hearing, involving the applications for permission to bring the challenges, and the challenges themselves, being heard at the same time.

The State respondents had sought three weeks to file opposition papers but the judge, noting the matter was urgent, directed those papers be filed within a week and returned the matter for further case management to Monday next.

On Thursday, Eileen Barrington SC, for the State side, said there had been some developments in the matter and the Minister had announced on February 1 st that agreement had been reached with trade unions to put in place a plan for return to school, on a phased basis, from February 11th of primary school children with special educational needs. Discussions with the unions are ongoing, counsel added.

In the circumstances, there had been correspondence between the sides and the applicants had agreed the case could be adjourned to March 8th and for the directions requiring opposition papers to be filed by next Monday to be lifted.

Mr Shortall said the applicants were very grateful to the court for the urgency it had given to the cases and they were also grateful to the Minister for advancing matters.

The closures are obviously very serious for all the children involved but it is hoped, in light of the Minister’s announcement, it will not be necessary to advance the cases any further, counsel said.

Mr Justice Meenan said what was proposed seemed satisfactory and he adjourned the matter to March 8th and discharged the direction concerning filing of opposition paers.

The actions arose after the Minister said on January 19th the schools would not re-open due to what she described as a lack of cooperation from key staff trade unions.

The applicants sought orders compelling the Minister and State to provide the children with an adequate and appropriate education, on the basis of obligations under the 1988 Education Act and Article 42 of the Constitution.

They sought injunctions aimed at compelling the State provide the children with appropriate and adequate education.

Prior to the January 19th announcement, the respondents believed it was appropriate the schools should have re-opened as planned on January 21st, it was claimed.

The parents fear for their children’s mental and physical well-being and said the National Public Health Emergency Team and the government had deemed schools safe to re-open, it was stated.

The court heard some of the children have severely regressed in basic skills due to the school closures and lack of supports they would normally get as part of their education.