Wednesday 18 September 2019

Challenge over decision to expel teen with autism will be heard before new school year, court hears

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Aodhan O'Faolain and Ray Managh

A High Court challenge against a decision to expel a teenager with autism from the secondary school he had been attending will be heard before the start of the new school year.

The 16-year old boy, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, was expelled by the School's board of management in November 2018.

That decision was appealed to the Department of Education which appointed a three-person committee under Section 29 of the 1998 Education Act (known as a Section29 Committee).

The committee dismissed the appeal and upheld the decision to expel the teen.

It found that the school's board of management's decision was "reasonable in the view of the number of assaults and aggressive behaviours perpetrated by the teen towards himself, other students and staff at the school."

The committee said it was accepted that on occasions the teen "engaged in unpredictable aggressive and violent behaviour in the school".

The frequency of such acts and the difficulty in identifying trigger indicators constituted a real concern for the board in ensuring it met its duty of care to the teen and other students in the school, the committee also held.

Through his mother, the teen, represented in court by Brendan Hennessy Bl, claims the committee's decision is flawed.

In judicial review proceedings against the Committee and the Minister for Education, the teen seeks to have the committee's decision quashed.

He also seeks to have the appeal remitted back and heard by a newly constituted committee.

It is claimed that the committee took matters into account that it was not entitled to, and that its decision was irrational.

Clear reasons for the decision were not clearly set out, and it also took into considerations that are irrelevant.

The court heard that the teenager, who was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder aged two,  has difficulties with speech and language. 

He started secondary school three years ago but had struggled in this school.

His mother believes the school lacks the necessary resources, such as regular speech and language and occupational therapy input, and skills to deal with his needs.

He was suspended and placed on a reduced timetable. He was suspended after he became distressed and acted out violently in November 2018.

His mother claims the school told her that she should take her son out of school permanently or he would be expelled.

After receiving advice from the National Council for Special Education, the boy returned to school following his suspension.  The school, it is claimed, extended the suspension and then took a decision to formally expel him.

That decision was then appealed under Section 29 of the Education Act.

The matter was briefly mentioned before Ms Justice Teresa Pilkington at the High Court on Thursday, who agreed to fix the hearing of the action to a date in late August.

The hearing of the teen's action, which is being opposed by the Minister, is expected to last a day.

The matter came before the High Court last month when Mr Justice Seamus Noonan granted lawyers acting for the teen's mother permission to bring the challenge against the committee's decision.

The secondary school is a notice party to the proceedings.

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