School ordered to enrol special needs children, court told

Irish Times

THE DEPARTMENT of Education has issued separate orders to a primary school compelling it to accept two children with special needs when it has only one place available, the High Court has been told.

The board of the school in the southeast has taken judicial review proceedings over decisions made by the secretary general of the department requiring the school to accept two boys, both of whom are autistic.

Earlier this year, parents of a 10- year-old boy, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, who was fourth on a waiting list for a place at the school, which provides specialist education for autistic children, were informed that there was no place available for him.

The parents appealed this to a committee established under section 29 of the Education Act 1998.

Under the Act, the committee considers appeals in relation to children who have been expelled or suspended from a school as well as those whose enrolment applications have been refused.

Following the committee's recommendation that the positioning of the 10-year-old child on the waiting list was unreasonable, the Department of Education ordered the school to enrol him.

The parents of a four-year-old child, who had been at the top of the waiting list and had been offered a place at the school, were then told that their child could not start at the school.

They also made a section 29 appeal, which was heard by a committee made up of different people to those who had heard the appeal brought by the 10-year-old's family. That action also resulted in the department making an order compelling the school to enrol the four-year-old.

In its proceedings, the board is seeking orders from the court to quash the department's decisions ordering the school to enrol the boys. It is further seeking orders that the section 29 committee had no jurisdiction to entertain the appeals and had acted in breach of natural and constitutional justice.

It claims the school had not refused to enrol the 10-year-old, but had acted within its enrolment policy. It further claims that the appeals committee is not entitled to disregard the school's enrolment policy.

Mr Justice Kevin Feeney said this was "a catch-22 situation" in light of the "conflicting orders" that the school had received. He adjourned the matter to Tuesday and said the court was prepared to clarify matters and give judgment on the application for a stay if necessary.


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