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State spent €432,000 opposing homeschooling families in court 

The Dept of Education’s recent legal actions against two homeschooling families cost the State just under half a million euros.

Details released to Independent TD, Carol Nolan, shows that the legal costs incurred came to €432,514. The students, from two families based in Mayo and Kilkenny, had won their case against the Minister for Education in the High Court in August 20202.

While the Department of Education had argued it was not possible to give homeschooled students a calculated grade due to an absence of credible evidence from an appropriate source, Justice Charles Meehan ruled that this was “irrational, unreasonable, and unlawful.”

A system had been put in place for conflicts of interest in schools, but this process wasn’t extended for homeschooled students.

However, the Minister decided to appeal the case to the Court of Appeals, and then to the Supreme Court, losing at every hearing.

Dr Angelo Bottone of the Iona Institute, who had welcomed the ruling said the State needed to be asked why they had pursued the case so vigorously.

“The ruling has reaffirmed and vindicated the constitutional right of parents to provide education outside a school setting. It is a victory for families, and it has to be warmly celebrated.”

“Finally, we have to wonder why the State pursued the case all the way to the Supreme Court. Is it anxious to expand the right of the State to rule in certain areas by executive diktat?” he asked.

The Supreme Court ruled last month Monday that there is a derived right, protected by the Constitution, for a home-schooled individual to have “reasonable” account taken of their situation when educational policies are being implemented by the State.

Chief Justice, Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell, said that the government has exceeded the limits set by the Constitution in respect of executive power.

The precise constitutional right at issue was the right of parents to provide education in the home and the consequent right of children to receive it, he said.

He did not agree that any interference with a family decision in relation to home-schooling would be impermissible, and stressed that the State cannot be required to provide a “bespoke” examination system for home-schooled children.

However, he said that in these cases the denial of calculated grades to the students meant they could not enter third-level education later in 2020 as they would have had to sit the postponed Leaving Cert exam after college places were offered.

He ruled that this amounted to an “undoubted interference” in their constitutional rights.

The court held that the Department of Education’s argument that it would be unfair to other students to offer the two students an individualised assessment was “insufficient justification” for the interference with their rights.

 

 

 

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