The High Court has granted an injunction to a teacher restraining the school in which she works from carrying out a disciplinary process over the manner in which she conducted remote teaching during school closures earlier this year.
Second level teacher Emer Lally had sought the injunction against Rosmini Community School in Dublin where she has worked for the past 19 years.
After a dispute at the school which centred on differing interpretations of how so-called "blended learning" was to be delivered during the second lockdown from January to March of this year, Rosmini Community School initiated a disciplinary process against Ms Lally. Ms Lally in response instituted legal proceedings against the school.
The injunction was sought to prevent the school proceeding with the disciplinary case pending the outcome of her legal case.
The principal of the school maintains that the teacher cancelled a large number of classes without notice to the school, and that this led to complaints from parents.
Emer Lally maintains that she taught an appropriate proportion of her classes live via the school's remote platform and set work for pupils to complete independently for the remainder of her classes while she was available remotely to answer questions and correct work.
However, today's ruling dealt with issues related to the process around the disciplinary proceedings, as well as a previous High Court injunction.
Granting an interlocutory injunction in favour of Ms Lally, Ms Justice Butler said the plaintiff continued to work in the school notwithstanding that she now faced a disciplinary process involving allegations of serious misconduct which, if established, might lead to her dismissal.
She noted that Ms Lally had never been the subject of any complaint from parents or pupils prior to these events, and that there was no history of a strained relationship between the parties prior to this.
The judge said she had serious concerns as to whether the principal had acted fairly in the preparation of a report into the teacher's conduct which went to the school's Board of Management.
Ms Justice Butler said a number of serious issues were raised by the plaintiff in an affidavit in relation to a first report. These included whether an audit carried out by the school fairly reflected her level of engagement with her students. The judge said that the principal had prepared a second report – which replaced the first one – with the knowledge of those concerns but did not address them in any way.
Given that the plaintiff was being accused of having "cancelled" classes, the judge said she believed it was relevant for the Board of Management to know whether she engaged with her students through other elements of the Google Suite platform provided by the school during those periods she is alleged to have cancelled classes.
"There is a significant difference in terms of the seriousness of what is alleged between a teacher who simply cancelled classes and made no provision at all for her students during those periods, and a teacher who did not conduct all classes remotely by maintaining a live presence throughout the class period but who distributed and assigned work in a structured way for students to do independently, who made herself available to assist and answer questions from students and who corrected and returned work done by students during these periods", the judge said.
The judge said that similarly, the second report compiled by the principal had failed to identify that the plaintiff was asserting technical difficulties in relation to taking accurate roll calls online.
The judge said that "in light of the knowledge the principal must have had of these issues... a serious issue arises as to whether he acted fairly".
In a lengthy ruling the judge also criticised the school principal for aspects of his response to the court. She said it was "extremely unsatisfactory that when a response is provided to a serious and specific allegation made on affidavit, it is simply met with silence".
She said when issue was taken with the factual accuracy of statements "and no response at all is provided, it necessarily raises doubts about the integrity of the proposed disciplinary process".
The judge said it was not possible to say with confidence that the procedure which had already commenced against Ms Lally was one which was being and would be carried out by the school in accordance with Department of Education regulations and in accordance with fair procedures.
She noted that the school had taken no steps to suspend the plaintiff pending the outcome of the disciplinary process, and that the conduct of which she was accused did not reflect on her ability to teach, nor pose any immediate risk to the pupils whom she teaches.
She said that whilst a pragmatic desire on the part of the school to progress a disciplinary hearing into matters capable of constituting serious misconduct was understandable, that desire was outweighed by the potential damage to the plaintiff’s otherwise unblemished record as a teacher in the school.
Granting the injunction sought by Ms Lally, the judge said the balance of justice appeared to favour the determination of Ms Lally's litigation whilst the status quo was maintained, and before the disciplinary process was allowed to proceed.