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High Court challenge begins against direction to readmit expelled student with special needs

The pupil, who has special needs and cannot be identified by order of the court, was expelled in September from a Co Meath school.

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A SCHOOL THAT caters for students with special needs has brought a High Court challenge against a direction by the Department of Education that it must readmit a student expelled following multiple violent incidents.

The pupil, who has special needs and cannot be identified by order of the court, was expelled in September 2020 from the Stepping Stones Special School, Harristown, Kilcloon in Co Meath.

The school provides special education service for children with autism and other complex needs.

The school made the decision to expel the pupil because it is claimed the student had on numerous occasions been violent towards staff, other students causing them injury, and had damaged school property.

The school eventually formed the view that the school was no longer an appropriate place for the pupil, who was deemed to be a health and safety risk to themselves and others.

The child’s parents appealed the school’s decision to the Department of Education & Skills. The Secretary General of the Department then established a three-person committee to consider the appeal.

In its decisions, that committee allowed the appeal and decided that the pupil should remain suspended for a “reasonable period” to allow for supports and interventions to be put in place for the pupil.

Arising out of the committee’s decision, the Department directed that the school readmit the pupil.

On Monday the school’s board of management, represented by Feichin McDonagh SC and Joe Jeffers Bl, launched proceedings against the Department and the committee aimed at quashing the Department’s direction to readmit the student.

In judicial review proceedings the board also seeks orders quashing the committee’s findings and that the matter be heard by a newly constituted three-person committee.

Counsel said that the committee’s finding was irrational, that irrelevant considerations had been taken into account, and it had gone outside the narrow parameters that such committees are meant to stick to.

The committee, counsel said, had focused on the school’s efforts to deal with the pupil’s behaviour and not on the pupil’s behaviour itself.

Counsel said that any alleged responsibility by the school for the pupil’s behaviour or a deficiency in services provided were irrelevant and should not have been taken into account by the committee.

In contrast other more relevant matters – including the pupil’s track record of violent behaviour and the effect it had on other pupils and staff – were not properly taken into account by the committee, counsel said.

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Counsel said that the school had been directed by the Department to readmit the pupil despite the fact that the committee recommended that they stay out until supports can be put in place.

This decision is also irrational and flawed, counsel said, and should also be set aside.

The pupil’s parents are notice parties to the proceedings.

The application came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan today, who on an ex-parte basis granted the school permission to bring its proceedings.

The judge, who noted the difficult situation all the parties find themselves in, accepted that the matter was urgent and adjourned it to a date in mid-March

The judge also placed a stay on the Department’s direction that the pupil be readmitted.

About the author:

Aodhan O Faolain

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