A Westmeath school validly suspended teacher Enoch Burke and he has no right to attend at the school, a High Court judge has ruled.
“Enoch Burke was the author of his own misfortune,” Mr Justice Alexander Owens said in his 16-page judgment on Friday in favour of Wilson Hospital School.
The judge also awarded the school €15,000 in damages for trespass against Mr Burke because of the “continuing trespass and deliberate disruption caused by entering school premises during school hours”. The award is in addition to the daily fine of €700 currently being imposed for his breach of existing orders restraining him from school property.
The school had initiated proceedings last autumn against Mr Burke, of Cloonsunna, Castlebar, Co Mayo, because he continued to attend there after he was made subject to a disciplinary process and placed on paid administrative leave.
The disciplinary process, based on a report compiled by the principal Niamh McShane and provided to the board of management, was initiated arising from his response to her request to staff asking that they address a student by their new preferred name and using the pronouns they/them. It was alleged Mr Burke confronted Ms McShane publicly at a school event in June 2022 over her request.
Mr Burke denied any confrontation and maintained the case is about “transgenderism” and that the core issue is about his right to freedom of expression of his religious beliefs.
The proceedings between the school and Mr Burke were before the courts several times prior to the full hearing last March of the dispute.
That hearing centred on whether the school was correct to suspend Mr Burke from his teaching position pending the outcome of the disciplinary process.
Arising from Mr Burke’s behaviour in court at the outset of the hearing, Mr Justice Owens directed he could not physically participate further unless he agreed to abide by the court’s directions and rulings.
When Mr Burke did not provide that agreement, the hearing proceeded without him being physically present but a remote link was made available for him to access if he wished.
In his judgment on Friday, Mr Justice Owens said the board of management had arrived at a consensus decision on August 22nd, 2022, that Mr Burke should be suspended because of concern that, if he were permitted to teach, he would engage in a repeat of his behaviour and this would be damaging to the school. This decision and its reasoning was conveyed to Mr Burke in a letter of August 24th, 2022.
The judge said there was no evidence any relevant matter was not duly considered or any irrelevant matter was taken into account by the board in arriving at its decision.
In light of what the board knew about his actions in the school towards the end of the previous academic year, and his behaviour at a school board meeting concerning his suspension, apprehension that he would engage in harmful and disruptive conduct if permitted to teach in the school was “rational and reasonable”.
The Board was entitled to take into account that Mr Burke did not address the issue of how he would behave in the school, the judge said.
Mr Burke had no consent of the board or the school to enter or remain within the school buildings or grounds after he was suspended, he said. His repeated attendance was trespass and he has no right to enter the school premises.
Because Mr Burke has not advanced his counterclaim, any claims in that must be dismissed, he said. That dismissal amounted to a final determination of all other issues raised by Mr Burke in relation to the board’s claim. It was also unnecessary for the court to decide Mr Burke’s claims the board interfered with his constitutional rights.
Mr Burke’s behaviour after August 2022 can have no bearing on whether the board acted properly, he said.
The judge said his provisional view was that the board’s costs should be paid by Mr Burke but the parties had 28 days to make submissions on the costs issue.