Principal suspended over ‘very serious’ complaints

A secondary school principal was suspended from her position after a number of “very serious” complaints were made against her, the High Court heard yesterday.

Justine Hughes, who is the principal of Coláiste na Mí post-primary school at the Johnstown Educational Campus, Johnstown, Navan, Co Meath, denies allegations of serious misconduct made against her.

The co-educational school, run by the Louth & Meath Education Training Board, first opened its doors to students in 2013.

The High Court heard that, last year, eight members of current and former staff at the school made what Tom Mallon, for the training board, said were “very serious” complaints about Ms Hughes in relation to child welfare and health and safety issues.

Counsel said that arising out of the complaints, the training board decided that an investigation should be launched, which, he said, is to be conducted by a barrister.

In addition, the training board suspended Ms Hughes last January on pay pending the outcome of the investigation.

Last month, she launched a High Court challenge against her employer’s decision to hold an investigation into the allegations.

Permission to bring that action was granted by Mr Justice Richard Humphreys, who also placed a stay on the investigation until the High Court proceedings have been determined.

The case was adjourned and will return before the High Court later this year.

However, the case returned before Mr Justice Bernard Barton yesterday after Ms Hughes’ lawyers brought a motion seeking to have a stay placed on a decision to reduce Ms Hughes’ pay.

After she was suspended, she was diagnosed as having a psychiatric illness and was deemed by her employer to be on sick leave.

The training board informed Ms Hughes that, under the terms of the relevant sick leave scheme, her pay is to be reduced after a certain period of time.

She now fears her pay, while she remains on sick leave, will eventually be reduced to zero. This would cause her and her family hardship, it was submitted.

Her lawyers also told the court that she denies each and every allegation of misconduct that has been made against her.

The training board had yesterday opposed the application, arguing it was entitled to reduce her pay under the terms and conditions of the relevant sick leave scheme.

In his ruling, Mr Justice Barton said Ms Hughes had initially been placed on what was known as administrative leave.

However, she was subsequently placed on sick leave which, Mr Justice Barton said, was triggered as a result of Ms Hughes becoming ill following her suspension.

In the circumstances, the judge said he had to dismiss the application to place a stay on her pay being reduced.


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