Secondary school in court challenge to decision requiring it to enrol boy with autism

Mother wants student enrolled in mainstream school, which his brother attends

 

A secondary school has brought a High Court challenge against a decision requiring it to enrol a student who has autism and a learning disorder.

The Leinster-based school says that while it has specific autism spectrum disorder (ASD) classes the child’s mother applied to have him enrolled in the mainstream school, which his brother attends, starting early next month.

The student involved cannot be identified for legal reasons.

Ms Justice Carmel Stewart heard the school, which also cannot be named in order to protect the boy’s identity, had carried out an expert assessment of the boy. As a result of this, the school believedhe would not be able to access the curriculum in any meaningful way and would require a full-time special needs assistant.

The school held that the needs of the boy, due to his mild general learning disability and autism, would be best met in a special class setting. The school claimed its ASD classes were full, and the application to enrol him had been made months after the closing date for the 2018-19 year had closed.

After the board of management, based on a report furnished to it by the principal, refused the application to enrol the boy on the basis his needs could not be accommodated in the mainstream school, his mother had appealed the decision to the Department of Education.

The Department of Education had appointed a committee under Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act to consider the appeal and the committee had overturned the school board’s decision.

Ms Justice Stewart heard that this had been followed by a direction from the Department of Education’s secretary general for the school to enrol the boy, resulting in the board’s application on Monday to the High Court to judicially review the initial decision of the special committee.

The school board, which was represented in court by Feichín McDonagh SC and barrister Joe Jeffers, claimed the committee’s decision was wrong. Counsel said that in arriving at its decision the committee had failed to consider the boy’s special education needs and the resources available to the school.

Mr McDonagh said the board considered the committee’s decision to be irrational and flying in the face of fundamental reason and common sense. He said it appeared the committee’s decision was based on a belief that the school’s reasons for refusing to enrol the boy was in contravention of a circular issued by the Department of Education concerning funding.

Counsel told the court the committee’s interpretation was incorrect as the circular had not been intended to affect the school’s admissions policies and concerns or how the department proposed to fund extra resources for the special education area.

In its proceedings against the secretary general of the Department of Education and the three members of the special committee, the board seeks an order quashing the determination that the school must enrol the student. It also seeks an order remitting the matter to the Secretary-General and a new hearing by a newly constituted appeals committee.

Ms Justice Stewart, on an ex parte basis, granted the Board permission to bring its action in early September aimed at overturning the decision.