Tuesday 12 November 2019

Ceann Comhairle pulled into dispute over teacher's dismissal in his constituency

Sean O Fearghail said to have advised parents who complained

Dispute: Sean O Fearghail. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/PhotocallIreland
Dispute: Sean O Fearghail. Photo: Sasko Lazarov/PhotocallIreland
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Ceann Comhairle Sean O Fearghail has been dragged into a dispute over the dismissal of a teacher from a school in his constituency, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

Mr O Fearghail is chair of the board of management of the school which recently decided to dismiss a teacher after receiving complaints from parents.

The teacher has appealed the ruling on the grounds that the board did not follow proper procedures, after it emerged Mr O Fearghail held a meeting with the parents before they submitted complaints.

Mr O Fearghail recused himself from the board's hearings after concerns were raised about the meeting by the teacher's legal representative.

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The board of management has insisted the Kildare South TD was entitled to meet the parents and advise them on procedures for submitting a complaint.

Meanwhile, a member of the same board of management resigned in protest over the decision to dismiss the teacher.

The board member argued the teacher did not receive a fair hearing and should not have been dismissed.

The board member also said the meeting between Mr O Fearghail and the parents was inappropriate.

An independent panel made up of a teachers' union representative, a Department of Education official and a member of the Association for Community and Comprehensive Schools (ACCS) will hear the teacher's appeal next month.

The meeting between Mr O Fearghail and the parents took place on November 17 last year in the Silken Thomas Hotel in Kildare town.

The board of management is understood to have said Mr O Fearghail was contacted by two parents on social media on November 15, 2018 and later spoke to them by phone to arrange the meeting.

The board said Mr O Fearghail advised the parents to make their complaints in writing and said they would then be dealt with through proper procedures.

The board also said substantive details of the parents' complaints were not discussed at the meeting.

The board said there were no more interactions between Mr O Fearghail and the parents prior to the formal board of management meetings.

The board met on November 20 and Mr O Fearghail presented the issues laid out in the parents' complaints to the other members. It was noted in the minutes of the meeting that Mr O Fearghail and the school's principal received copies of the complaint.

It was decided to raise the matter with the child protection agency Tusla and it was agreed that the teacher should be put on administrative leave on an interim basis.

The next day, the teacher was informed by the principal that Tusla had been contacted in relation to the complaints made against her by parents.

She was also told the school's board of management planned to investigate the complaints.

On May 21, the teacher was given a "provisional conclusion" of Tulsa's investigation into the complaints made against her.

The agency said the provisional outcome of their investigation found the allegations to be "unfounded".

On May 30, the board discussed "rumours circulating" that Tulsa had found the allegations made against the teacher to be unfounded.

The minutes of the meeting note Mr O Fearghail suggested writing to Tusla to express the board's "dismay and surprise at the rumours circulating".

At a board of management meeting on June 7, it was noted that details of the Tusla investigation were being discussed locally and one member said they were appalled that confidential matter would be publicly known.

On June 13, the teacher provided the board with the letter from Tusla which showed the allegations made against her were "unfounded".

The minutes of the meeting note that the "Tusla element" of the investigation was closed but the board still intended on reviewing the teacher's competency.

On July 26, the board decided by a majority decision to dismiss the teacher.

Two days later, one member of the board of management wrote to the other members raising serious concerns with the decision to dismiss the teacher.

The board member said the teacher was not given a fair hearing and should be "reinstated immediately".

The next day, the same board member resigned from the board of management citing the decision to dismiss the teacher.

The board member said they were resigning after their requests to hold a meeting on the issue were denied and ignored.

The teacher's appeal will be heard on November 14.

In response to questions from the Sunday Independent, Mr O Fearghail said: "School Board of Management is involved in a process during the course of which it would be entirely inappropriate for me or any board member to make any public comment."

Sunday Independent

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