Students with learning disabilities settle Leaving Cert aide cases

No details of settlements outlined, State Examinations Commission to pay legal costs

Three students with learning disabilities have settled actions aimed at securing reader assistants for the Leaving Cert. File photograph: Peter Thursfield/The Irish Times

Three students with learning disabilities have settled actions aimed at securing reader assistants for the Leaving Cert. File photograph: Peter Thursfield/The Irish Times

 

Three students with learning disabilities have settled their legal actions aimed at securing reader assistants for the Leaving Cert exams starting next week.

No details of the settlements were outlined other than that the State Examinations Commission has agreed to pay the legal costs of all three applicants.

One of the three cases settled without opening before Mr Justice Seamus Noonan on Tuesday, while the other two opened briefly before the judge suggested the parties might engage in talks.

The judge noted, even if the two students won orders requiring the commission to reconsider the refusal of their applications, that might be a “pyrrhic” victory in circumstances where the commission had made a second decision also refusing their applications with reasons.

That second decision was made after Mr Justice Noonan gave a judgment in another case by a different student last April which quashed the refusal of a reader to that student on grounds including failure to give reasons for the refusal.

After some discussions, the judge was told by Michael Lynn SC, for the two, the parties had resolved matters and the cases could be struck out with costs to the applicants.

Not meet criteria

Bill Shipsey SC, for the commission, consented. He noted the students did not meet the criteria for the assistance they were seeking for the Leaving Cert exams.

The judge was earlier told one of the students has dyslexia and dyscalculia (difficulties with numeracy), while the second has a learning disability.

Mr Lynn said the refusal of assistance to his clients under what is known as the RACE scheme (reasonable accommodation in certificate examinations) was unfair for reasons including his side was unaware the commission had intended to make a second decision on the student’s application following the High Court findings. They had no opportunity to challenge that move, he said.

Mr Shipsey told the judge more than 400 reader applications were reviewed by his client following Judge Noonan’s April judgment. That review was carried out on foot of principles identified in the judgment and led to 81 students securing reader assistance, counsel said.

Given reasons

Another 211 applicants had been told they did not meet the criteria and they were given reasons for the refusals of their applications, Mr Shipsey said. Another 55 applicants who fell into a different category were also provided with reasons why their applications were rejected, he added.

The commission’s concern was to protect the integrity of the RACE system, he said. That allows for students with learning disabilities to secure a range of “reasonable accommodations” in examinations, such as a reader, an adult supervisor who reads and explains the structure of exam papers to the relevant student, or waivers for spelling and grammar.

To qualify for a reader, a student must satisfy certain criteria, including obtaining certain test scores in word reading on sample papers.