Parent of transgender student in Enoch Burke row expresses safety concern for their family
Child had never asked to be called by ‘they’ pronoun, email to school states
A parent of the transgender student who Enoch Burke refused to call by a new name has said they were never told by Wilson’s Hospital School that their child was the one referred to in legal proceedings against the fired teacher.
In an email to the school’s principal in January, the parent said they only learned “the child in question is my child” after reading a court judgment which outlined what year the unidentified student was in.
“The school did not inform me and I feel now that there’s a safety concern for my family. This whole situation could have been avoided,” the parent wrote.
The parent also said their child had never requested they be called by the “they/them pronoun”.
They also expressed concern that personal information “may be out there”, saying they received a letter from the Co Westmeath school last August stating “my family’s personal data may have been stolen”.
Further details of the alleged data breach have not been disclosed. The parent was seeking an update on the issue “because now my family’s information may be out there and with everything going on, this could be serious”.
The contents of the email, which went on to be at variance with aspects of the school’s account of the affair, were revealed in an affidavit filed with the High Court by its principal Frank Milling.
Mr Burke was suspended last August pending a disciplinary process after clashing with school management over a request from then principal Niamh McShane that the child be called by a new name and by “they/them” pronouns.
The teacher, an evangelical Christian, refused to comply with the request on religious grounds. He spent 108 days in prison last year over his refusal to abide by court orders requiring him to stay away from the Church of Ireland diocesan school in Multyfarnham.
Mr Burke was eventually dismissed in January, a decision he is appealing.
The High Court yesterday gave him a week to pay fines totalling €23,800 for his continued breach of one of the court orders, after which he could face enforcement action from the school.
Mr Milling’s affidavit was one of four filed on behalf of the school to correct factual errors made in earlier legal filings in the case ahead of a full trial later this month.
In an affidavit last August, the school’s chairman, John Rogers, said a meeting took place the previous May between the student, their parents and Ms McShane at which the then principal was advised the student wanted to transition and to be addressed by a new name and pronoun going forward. Mr Rogers based his account on a report compiled by Ms McShane.
However, the parent said in the email to Mr Milling they wished to be clear that the purpose of the meeting was to “re-engage [their child] back to school”. The parent also said that while the child had requested to go by a new name, “the they/them pronoun came from Wilson’s” and there was no principal or deputy principal at the meeting.
Mr Burke has pounced on the discrepancies, claiming the orders secured against him were obtained on the basis of “false statements”.
In a responding affidavit, the teacher said he believed the parent of the pupil who attended the meeting had no desire to see the school litigate or take disciplinary action against him.
The High Court previously heard about inaccuracies in Mr Rogers’ affidavits in January, when lawyers for the school applied for leave to file corrective affidavits. It is now clear the parent’s email was the catalyst for the application.
The affidavit filed by Mr Milling outlining the parent’s email was one of four filed by the school to deal with the issue. Between them, the four affidavits clarified that the meeting was attended by the student, one parent, a year head and another member of school staff. Ms McShane was only present for a short part of the meeting.
Lawyers for the school have argued the inaccuracies have no bearing on the granting of orders against Mr Burke.
Mr Milling, who became principal last November, said: “The student’s parent’s email could be interpreted as a suggestion the change in pronouns was a decision by the school and the school alone.
“However, I understand from my enquiries of the two members of staff who were at the meeting that is not the case.
“The student was clear that they did not want to use their previous gender-specific pronouns and all, including the parent, agreed that ‘they/them’ would be used going forward in the school.”
He also said he understood from his predecessor that the word “parents” in her report as opposed to “parent” was a generalisation on her part.
Mr Milling added: “I believe nothing turns on this. However, it is embarrassing and very unfortunate that this error was made.”
In his ruling on the fines issue yesterday and in a ruling last month, Mr Justice Brian O’Moore said if Mr Burke wanted to raise the issue of “erroneous affidavits”, he could go back to the relevant judges and ask them to revisit their orders.
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