A secondary school has secured a temporary High Court injunction preventing a teacher who opposes addressing a student with the pronoun “they” from either attending at its premises or from teaching any classes at the school while he remains suspended from his position.
The injunction was secured, on an ex parte basis, by the board of management of Wilson’s Hospital School in Co Westmeath against Mr Enoch Burke, who the court was told is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an ongoing disciplinary process.
He has not been sanctioned and no finding has been made against him by the school.
His suspension arises from alleged conduct after he publicly voiced his objections to the school’s request to address one of its students, who wishes to transition, using the pronoun “they” and by a different name.
The school claims that despite its decision to suspend him, made at a meeting he attended with his sister Ammi earlier this month, he has attended at the school’s campus in recent days, Ms Justice Siobhan Stack was told on Tuesday.
The school, represented in court by barrister Rosemary Mallon instructed by Mason Hayes and Curran solicitors, sought the injunction because it fears the teacher’s refusal to abide by the terms of its decision may be very disruptive.
Counsel said that Mr Burke, who is from Co Mayo, was placed on administrative leave pending the completion of a disciplinary process into allegations of wrongdoing against him.
The process arose after the teacher objected to a request by the school, based on a request from a student and their parents, earlier this year to address a student, who wishes to transition, by a different name and to use the pronoun “they” rather than “he or she” going forward.
Mr Burke, it is claimed objected to this, has questioned the school’s position, and says that a belief system is being forced on students, and claims that the school’s request amounts to a breach of constitutional rights.
The school denied to Mr Burke in correspondence that anyone is being “forced” to do anything.
The school said it is focusing on the needs and welfare of its students and is affirming its policy in accordance with the 2000 Equal Status Act of not discriminating against any student.
It says it has acknowledged Mr Burke’s religious beliefs but expects him to communicate with the student in accordance with the student’s and their parents’ wishes.
The school claims that last June a service and dinner was held to mark the school’s 260th anniversary. It was attended by clergy, staff, past and present pupils, parents and board members.
It is claimed that Mr Burke interrupted the service and said the school’s principal, Ms Niamh McShane, should withdraw the earlier demand regarding the transitioning of the student, that he could not agree with transgenderism, and said it went against the school’s ethos and the teaching of the Church of Ireland.
The school claims that, after he spoke, members of the congregation and students walked out of the school chapel.
It is claimed that at the follow-up dinner Mr Burke did not sit at any table.
After the meal he is alleged to have approached the principal, and again asked her to withdraw the request regarding the student.
The school claims that she said she would speak to Mr Burke at an appropriate time and place, and walked away from him.
It is claimed that he continued to follow her and questioned her loudly.
Other people stood between them to prevent the continuation of his questioning, it is further claimed.
Arising out of Mr Burke’s alleged conduct, a disciplinary process was commenced and considered by the board, resulting in a decision to place him on administrative leave pending the outcome of the process.
The next stage of the process is due to take place in mid-September, counsel said.
However, despite being placed on administrative leave, which Mr Burke has described as being unreasonable, unjust and unlawful, the school claims that he has attended at the school.
When approached by a senior staff member at the school, Mr Burke said that “I am here to work” and “I am here to attend a meeting”.
The school, the Church of Ireland’s diocesan school for Meath and Kildare, located in Multyfarnham Co Westmeath, fears that despite its decision Mr Burke will continue to try to teach his classes, the court heard.
It is alleged that if the complaints against Mr Burke are upheld, his presence at the school could adversely impact on the school.
A substitute teacher has been hired to teach his classes while he remains suspended, the court heard.
Any attempt by Mr Burke to teach those classes may have a negative impact on the students in those classes at the start of the academic year, the school fears.
Ms Justice Stack granted the interim injunction restraining Mr Burke from attending at the school’s premises or from teaching any classes or students at Wilson’s Hospital while he remains on paid administrative leave.
The judge said the temporary injunction is to remain in place until the matter returns before the court next week.
Any request to extend the order can be made to the judge at the next hearing date, the judge added.