Friday, January 28, 2011

In Ireland, school allowed to refuse to enroll learning disabled boy

From The Irish Times:

A County Dublin national school was entitled to refuse to enroll a boy in a class for children with autism, the High Court ruled Jan. 27.

Mr Justice Daniel O’Keeffe upheld a challenge by Lucan Educate Together National School to a Department of Education appeals committee decision allowing an appeal by the child’s parents against the school’s refusal in late 2007 to enroll him in its outreach class for children with autism.

While it was accepted the outreach class had capacity for the child, the school refused enrollment on grounds he did not meet the criteria for enrolment in light of a psychologist’s report stating he had “significant” learning disability and significant developmental delay.

The school’s criteria for enrollment included only a “mild” learning disability and the school said the services available to it could not meet the child’s needs.

The parents appealed under section 29 of the Education Act and the appeals committee allowed that appeal and directed the child be enrolled in January 2008.

The committee found the child met the “main criteria” for enrolment and said the inclusion in the school’s enrolment policy of a criterion of “mild” learning disability was “inappropriate in the context of recent legislation”. It added two other reports indicated the child was in any event functioning within the “mild” range and, even if he was not, he should be enrolled.

The school took judicial review proceedings over that decision and in his reserved judgment yesterday, Mr Justice O’Keeffe found in favour of the school.

While it was not unreasonable for the committee to describe autism as the main criterion for enrolment and there was no issue there was capacity in the outreach class for the child, other aspects of the committee’s decision were unreasonable and invalid, he found. The committee’s conclusion that the child had a mild learning disability was unreasonable given the facts and evidence in the case, he ruled.

He said the report relied on by the committee at the appeal could not be read as establishing that the child suffered from a mild learning disability. The report referred to the child having “adaptive skills” within the “mild range of adaptive functioning” [relating to how well persons cope with common life demands]. This was a different condition to a learning disability, he said. He also ruled as “invalid” the committee’s conclusion that the enrolment policy criterion permitting only a mild learning disability for the outreach class was “inappropriate in the context of recent legislation”.

Section 29 requires an appeals committee to set out the reasons for its decision on an appeal, he said. The committee’s conclusion that the “mild” learning disability criterion was inappropriate given recent legislation was “vague and uncertain”, did not specify the legislation referred to and was invalid, he ruled. He also said the enrolment policy was prepared by the school board of management in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Education Act.