Thursday 19 October 2017

Boy (14) expelled over smoking cannabis in school entitled to fresh hearing

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Stock Picture

Aodhan O'Faolain

A teenage boy expelled from his secondary school over smoking a cannabis joint is entitled to a fresh hearing of his appeal against the expulsion order, a High Court judge has ruled.

Ms Justice Una Ni Raifeartaigh quashed a Department of Education appeals committee decision upholding the school’s expulsion and directed an urgent rehearing before a different committee.

The boy was aged 14 when he was expelled in summer 2016 and has been unable to find another school or sit his Junior Certificate.

He is receiving some home tutoring and also attends a study club which has described him as a “model student”.

The judge said she was quashing the committee decision because it failed to conduct a genuinely fresh hearing on the important issue of fact whether the joint smoking happened on school property.

The school‘s policies permit expulsion for using or possessing illegal drugs in school or on school grounds and the boy admitted smoking the joint while “mitching” in an area used by the public and close to the school but out of bounds to pupils.

The judge said the committee’s decision, when dealing with that issue, stated the school board of management accepted it was “established” the boy had been using drugs within the school environment during school time and this was “the main reason why he was expelled”.

That “peculiar” language did not involve the committee directly assessing whether the child’s behaviour warranted expulsion, she said.

She was also concerned the committee had not allowed the boy’s mother hand in a lengthy statement prepared for the appeal and only permitted her read that.

The judge was “not convinced” the committee’s decision making on the factual issue clearly fell within the model of a fresh hearing. The committee’s decision did not clearly  separate itself from that of the board of management and the committee, on the contrary, seemed to have considered the board’s decision “highly material” to its own.

If she was correct the committee did not reach an independent view of the facts, that was a “fundamental defect” in how the committee approached its task.

A 14-year-old is very different from a 16 or 17-year-old, the judge also said.  If he does not win the fresh appeal, his application for orders requiring the Department to find him another school place will have to be addressed urgently, she added.

There is no doubt the secondary education of a child is “an extremely important matter” which may affect their chances for the rest of their life, she said.

Earlier, the judge said the immediate precipitating factor for the expulsion relating to smoking the cannabis joint but there were previous issues, including two incidents for which the boy was suspended, and a history of “mitching” from school. His mother had expressed concerns the earlier incidents arose from bullying and being confused with a sibling.

The school’s substance abuse policy provided students using or in possession of illegal drugs in school and “in the school grounds” will be suspended and may be expelled.

The boy admitted smoking the cannabis after he bought it from another student, whom he believed also sold joints to other students. He apologised and said he would reform.

The school board of management decided he should be expelled on grounds he bought and used illegal drugs within the school environment and during school time, his conduct was a source of “serious” bad example and he had shown he was not amenable to the school rules.

His mother argued other students alleged by her son to have bought joints and a student alleged to have supplied drugs were treated more leniently. She also argued he was not in uniform at the time and had not bought drugs in school but on a public footpath.

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