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Deaf child brings High Court action over lack of Irish Sign Language teacher at school

It is claimed that the lack of supports may have left him years behind his potential.

Image: Shutterstock/Semmick Photo

A DEAF PRIMARY school student has brought a High Court challenge aimed at compelling the Minister for Education and the school he attends to provide him with full-time access to an Irish Sign Language (ISL) teacher.

The action is being brought on behalf of a boy who has been Deaf since birth, who the court heard requires to be taught by a qualified Irish Sign Language teacher at the primary school he is a student at.

The applicant, who is suing through his father, cannot be identified by order of the court. The court heard that the boy’s parents are hugely concerned about his education.

It is claimed that the lack of supports may have left him years behind his potential.

Represented by Derek Shortall SC and John Temple Bl, it is claimed that the child’s parents have sought the supports the boy needs for some years, but have not received them.

The court heard that the boy had been provided with an ISL qualified teacher at one point during his education, but that person was provided with a contract of employment that did not provide benefits such as paid annual leave or protective leave.

Recently the school has hired Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) to help the boy with his education.

There have been issues over some of their qualifications, while one qualified person turned down the job due to the low pay being offered.

The applicant claims the Minister is obliged by the Oireachtas to provide ISL classes and supports, and that there are sufficient persons trained for the provision of these supports.

It is further claimed that the boy’s school is legally obliged to do all that is reasonable to ensure that those who cannot hear are provided with an interpretation into ISL as part of their education.

Counsel said that the failure by the Minister and the school to provide these supports amounts to a failure by both the school and the Minister of Education to meet their constitutional and statutory obligations to the boy.

In judicial review proceedings against the Minister for Education and Skills and the school the boy attends, the applicant is seeking various orders and declarations.

These include an order requiring the respondents to provide him with an ISL teacher within 30 days.

He is also seeking declarations including that the respondents have failed to provide him with an adequate and appropriate education as required under Article 42 of the Constitution, and various Education Acts.

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He further seeks a declaration that contrary to the 2017 Irish Sign Language Act, the respondents have failed to provide him with the appropriate supports for deaf children.

The application was granted, on an ex-parte basis, by Justice Charles Meenan. 

The judge said he was satisfied to grant leave to bring the case, but expressed his concerns about the court’s jurisdiction to deal with issues concerning the payment of teachers trained in ISL.

In reply, Shortall said that the action did not involve issues concerning teachers’ pay, but was about vindicating the rights of his client.

The matter was adjourned to a date in August.

About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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