Parents are losing 75pc of appeals over school expulsions
PARENTS who challenge the expulsion of their child from secondary school are losing three out of four cases that go to a full hearing.
Expulsions from among the ranks of the 350,000 post-primary students are rare and usually for severe or persistent breaches of discipline.
In recent years, parents were given a legal right, under Section 29 of the Education Act, to appeal such decisions to a special Department of Education committee.
But latest figures show that parents who pursue cases all the way are overwhelmingly losing the argument.
When a student is expelled, efforts are made to find an alternative place in another school or in Youthreach, which provides an alternative to mainstream education.
Legislation requires children to remain in education until the age of 16 and the National Educational Welfare Board must be informed of a pending expulsion.
According to latest figures from the Department of Education, there were a total of 351 appeals against expulsion of second-level pupils between 2005 and 2009.
Some were withdrawn and others were resolved locally, but 271 went all the way to a full hearing of a Department of Education committee. Of those, 203 were not upheld, while just 68 went in favour of the parents.
In 2007, the legislation was amended to require appeal committees to take into account the needs of the wider school community when considering appeals against expulsion.
That followed a number of high-profile incidents, including the successful appeal against the expulsion of a 14-year-old student who had threatened a teacher with a hammer, stabbed a fellow pupil with a pen and was found in possession of knives on the school grounds.
The figures, released to Fine Gael education spokesperson Brian Hayes, also show a downward trend in the number of appeals against expulsions. There were only 56 in 2009, compared with 84 in 2006.
Section 29 also allows parents to appeal against a school's refusal to enrol or a decision to suspend a pupil for a period greater than 20 days.
Where an appeal against an expulsion is upheld by the committee, the secretary-general of the department can direct a school to enrol or reinstate a pupil.
Transparent policies on admissions and behaviour, that adhere to the law and have been applied in a fair manner, are the cornerstone of a school's defence against an appeal.
The Section 29 process has been the subject of a number of High Court rulings.
As a result, the department has instructed that a committee is confined to reviewing whether a school's board of management applied its policies correctly and lawfully and whether it acted in a reasonable and rational manner.
Ferdia Kelly, general secretary of the Joint Managerial Body, which represents two-thirds of second-level schools, said no school took a decision lightly to suspend or expel a pupil.
Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland general-secretary John White said the figures showed that it was only when there was no alternative that schools reluctantly expelled or suspended pupils.
"Schools make every endeavour to cope with difficult and challenging pupils, but they also have to think of the great majority of pupils whose right to education may be damaged by disruptive pupils," he said.
Teachers Union of Ireland president Don Ryan said "decisions taken to suspend or expel pupils are taken in complete exasperation with the refusal to heed repeated requests for changed behaviour.
"It is important to make the distinction between boisterous behaviour and that which poses a risk to the health and safety of other pupils and school staff."