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Education Update: Student’s Exclusion During Examination Year Deemed ‘Unduly Harsh’

12 December 2019

The dilemma

A junior cert student who had been suspended for allegedly supplying cannabis to school and who was the subject of a disciplinary hearing was recently reinstated. The Court was presented with a dilemma as to how to do right by the boy whilst ensuring that he would not do wrong by any of his fellow pupils in the future. Ultimately it was decided that the student can conditionally return to school. So it important for schools to understand the court's rationale for arriving at this determination.

The errant student and the background

A junior certificate student’s mother contacted the school to share her concerns that her son was using cannabis. The boy admitted that he smoked cannabis with other pupils from the school. He strenuously denied that he had brought cannabis to the school and supplied it to other pupils.

The disciplinary process

Following an investigation, the boy was suspended by the principal. The Board of Management (BoM) arranged for their own hearing but this did not take place because of the impending legal proceedings. The parents instituted a Section 29 Appeal hearing which was unsuccessful. Subsequently, the parents sought an injunction on the grounds that a full hearing and determination might not conclude until the examinations commenced.

The Court decision

The Court was of the view that, if the boy had supplied drugs to others, the relief which was sought to lift the suspension would be refused. Given that the suspension had been ongoing since early December and that there was no prospect of a swift resolution, the Court decided to return the boy to school with immediate effect.

Conditions attaching to the boy’s return were that:

  1. The BoM could seek at any time to lift the injunction if the principal had serious concerns about the boy’s behaviour

  2. The boy was cautioned that he was expected to behave well and not to be involved in gloating about his return

  3. The boy was warned that any further involvement with illegal drugs would offer the BoM the soundest basis on which to have the injunction lifted

  4. The Court sought from Tusla:

    1. An immediate meeting with the boy and a preparation of a report about his general welfare/schooling

    2. To direct that a copy of that report be provided to his parents, principal, and Chairperson of the BoM

    3. The BoM was granted liberty to seek a lifting of the injunction in the event that any aspect of the report raised concerns

Conclusion

The decision to return the boy to school was a close-run matter. This was because the Court was presented with a dilemma as to how to do right by the boy whilst ensuring that he did not do wrong by any of his fellow pupils. The courts can, understandibly, be more sympathetic to students in state examination years. Disciplinary matters should be primarily for schools, and appeals processes should typically be operated by the Department of Education and Skills. 

The courts are reluctant to interfere in the disciplinary process. This case was one of the exceptions.

For more information on successfully navigating similary pupil disciplinary matters, contact a member of our Education team. 


The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.

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