Teacher stalls disciplinary process over performance during Covid restrictions

Emer Lally says she has an unblemished disciplinary record at the school where she has taught since 2002

A secondary school teacher has secured a temporary High Court order restraining any investigation or disciplinary process against her arising from a report which she says made “findings” against her, including she had cancelled some classes during the Covid-19 restrictions.

Mr Justice Senan Allen was satisfied Emer Lally had made out a strong case for the order sought against the board of management of Rosmini Community School in Dublin.

Her difficulties appeared to stem from an industrial relations dispute between some teachers and their union ASTI on one side, and the school principal and board of management on the other, concerning how teaching should be done earlier this year during the school closures period of the Covid-19 restrictions to March 26th last, the judge remarked.

All teachers in the school have been teaching in person there since April 12th and the proceedings arose from a “self-contained” issue which is “not rumbling on”, he was told by Padraic Lyons BL, for Ms Lally.

A teacher at Rosmini for some 20 years, Ms Lally strongly denies “findings” against her, which the court was told the school maintains are “allegations”, as set out in a “comprehensive report” of April 12th last, the court heard.

Ms Lally claims the report was compiled without any input whatsoever from her and she was given no opportunity to defend herself against any of its findings in breach of her rights to fair procedures and natural justice and the applicable Department of Education circular governing her employment.

In an affidavit, Ms Lally said the findings are wrong, she had not cancelled classes and had not intentionally incorrectly marked rolls.

She had engaged in a mix of online live face-to-face teaching and independent learning for students in accordance with guidance issued by the Minister for Education and directives from her union, the ASTI, she said. She was at all times available to her students online and during these periods.

While she had misgivings about the reliability of the IT system for roll-taking (VSWare), and had experienced problems with that system, she did not intentionally mark any rolls incorrectly.

She had not marked rolls for classes that did not take place and did not deliberately falsify school records. “I did not let my students down.”

The report is significantly lacking in detail as to the factual basis for those findings, she said.

She had not been given details concerning unspecified complaints by an unspecified number of parents and was also concerned about prejudgment on the school’s part.

On the evidence before the court on Friday, the judge was satisfied to grant interim orders ex parte (one side only represented), returnable to next week, restraining any investigation or disciplinary process against her, or any steps to dismiss her from her employment, arising from the April 12th report.

He granted liberty to seek an interlocutory injunction next week continuing the restraining orders pending the outcome of the proceedings.

In an affidavit, Ms Lally, with an address at The Dunes, Portmarnock, Dublin, said the application was urgent because she had been summoned to attend a disciplinary meeting on Monday which, she had been advised could give rise to disciplinary sanctions against her, up to and including her dismissal.

She believed the investigation and disciplinary process was in clear breach of the procedures applicable to her employment as a secondary school teacher and in breach of her right to fair procedures.

Her solicitors had set out her concerns to the board of management and had sought undertakings but those had been refused and the defendant had said it intended to proceed with Monday’s meeting.

A teacher at Rosmini since 2002, Ms Lally said she has an unblemished disciplinary record at the school and, throughout her 22 years as a teacher, had not had any complaints made against her by parents and students until the issues which had lead to these proceedings.