12 Dec 2012

Minister says student safety top priority

11:49 pm on 12 December 2012

Education Minister Hekia Parata says no student from a special needs girls' school the Government had planned to close will be placed at risk if they are moved to another school.

A High Court judge has ruled the Government's decision to close the residential Salisbury School in Nelson at the end of the year was unlawful and showed a disregard for the greater risk of abuse the girls might face at a co-educational school.

The Government's plan was to move the girls to Halswell Residential College, a special needs school in Christchurch, which at present is attended only by boys.

Mrs Parata says the separate accommodation and security system Hallswell was planning to provide would have kept students safe.

The minister says she will consider the judgment and decide on the options for the future.

The Green Party is calling on Ms Parata to resign or be sacked over her handling of the decision to close the school. Co-leader Metiria Turei said the decision to close the school was unethical.

Parents relieved

Angela Guptill has a daughter at the Salisbury School and says the decision to move students would have put the girls at risk of emotional, sexual and physical harm.

She told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme all the girls feel accepted at Salisbury School, and the judge's decision was a huge relief.

Helen McDonnell, chairperson of Salisbury School Board of Trustees, says options suggested by the board during consultation were ignored. "We as a board have lost confidence with both the minister and the ministry," she says.

Lawyer Mai Chen, who acted for the school, says the case also raises concerns about the process behind closures and mergers of schools in Christchurch.