School principal wins challenge to demotion

Decisions to appoint replacement also quashed by High Court

Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley (above) quashed the board’s decision to appoint a new principal

Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley (above) quashed the board’s decision to appoint a new principal

 

A Co Wicklow primary school principal has won a court challenge against her demotion.

Nora Kelly, principal of St Joseph’s National School in Valleymount, Co Wicklow, succeeded in the High Court application to quash her board of management’s decision to demote her.

The board had decided in November to demote her to the position of ordinary teacher on the basis that she had been guilty of serious misconduct.

Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley yesterday also quashed the board’s decision to appoint a new principal. The judge said an appeal by Ms Kelly to the disciplinary appeal panel had been largely successful but the board had rejected the panel’s recommendation that a disciplinary process should recommence and that Ms Kelly should be warned as to her conduct and asked for an apology.


Staffing impasse
Ms Kelly, a teacher for 32 years and principal of St Joseph’s since 2007, had told the High Court she had been told by the Department of Education in July last year that it would not pay for more than the allocation of posts already sanctioned for the five- to six-teacher school.

Ms Justice O’Malley, in a reserved judgment, said one of the 100-pupil school’s teachers had been on long-term sick leave and the board had directed Ms Kelly to appoint on a fixed-term contract another teacher it had selected.

She had told the board she could not comply with its direction as the teacher on sick leave could have returned at any time, putting other teachers at risk of redeployment.


Fraught
Communications between Ms Kelly and board chairman John Horan had become increasingly fraught and the board had decided to start disciplinary action.

Judge O’Malley said she had no doubt that Ms Kelly’s preoccupation with teacher issues led her to forget her duty of respect for the board. Her tone, as evidenced in emails and her presentations to the disciplinary hearing, was chiding and truculent.

However, rather than confront her, the board suffered in silence in the hope she would change, which was a recipe for disaster. She said the disciplinary process did not accord with the dictates of fairness and rationality.