14 May 2021

Police at St Peter's school after threat forced evacuation

2:03 pm on 14 May 2021

A Waikato boarding school will remain closed today because of a bomb threat yesterday that forced it to be evacuated.

St Peter's School, Cambridge

The school remains closed on Friday as a threat is investigated. Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Police and security guards have been at St Peter's school in Cambridge overnight.

About 500 students and staff left the campus about 8pm yesterday, when police arrived following a tip-off to the Crime Stoppers information line.

A school musical production was just finishing up when students, families, teachers and community members were asked to leave.

A St Peter's school spokesperson said the evacuation was relaxed and orderly, and students were with their families or staying in the community.

The spokesperson said the campus was now empty and the next steps are to work with police to ascertain whether it was a credible threat.

Police are investigating.

A parent of a St Peters student school said she no longer trusted the school and was considering withholding fees.

The parent, who RNZ has agreed not to name, was angry they learnt about the evacuation from their child, not the school.

The school's principal and deputy principal, who are married, have been absent since the start of term two last week.

The parent said they were only told days ago about the absence and that the school's communication was woeful.

They said school fees were tens of thousands of dollars a year, and the fact the school had pulled in a PR company to manage the fallout reinforced their belief it was only motivated by the need to manage its reputation, and profit, not the needs of the parents for information.

However, board chair John Erkkilaa said as soon as the evacuation was underway, the school notified parents by email and through social media.

"We've had incredible feedback from dozens of parents this morning thanking us for managing the evacuation calmly and safely," he said in a statement.

"Further, we're immensely proud of the way our school community stepped up and offered support by way of billeting students and providing food for students and staff, and the Velodrome staff who stayed at the facility overnight with those students who hadn't yet been collected by their parents and our staff."

The school's leadership team had also been commended by its emergency management advisors for its response, he said.

Regarding the situation around the independent investigation into bullying allegations, he said he had communicated to parents that the school was trying to be as open as possible with them, while being mindful of its legal obligations.

It was common practice to contract outside support to deal with media inquiries in such cases, he continued.

"I've also been very clear that parents are more than welcome to contact me if they have concerns they want to discuss so perhaps they'd like to take up that offer in the first instance instead of sharing their concerns with the media before we've spoken. I'd welcome the opportunity to speak with any parent who has concerns."

WorkSafe inquiry

WorkSafe have this week been making inquiries after anonymous allegations of bulling at the school.

In a statement to staff and parents, St Peter's Trust Board chair John Erkkila said the school had investigations under way to understand whether there had been bullying behaviour towards staff.

"If there has been, or if there is still workplace bullying happening, we need to know so it can be stopped," the statement said.

WorkSafe got in touch with a member of the St Peter's Trust Board in term one to advise that there had been anonymous complainants alleging workplace bullying and that WorkSafe were making inquiries, the chair said.

The board subsequently engaged two independent investigators, and their enquiries were not yet complete.

"I acknowledge the feedback from our school community that we haven't told you enough and that we haven't told you soon enough", the chair said. "As a Board, we have legal obligations and for that reason it has been a difficult environment to navigate. But I also recognise the need to be open as possible with our school community is important."

Principal Dale Burden and his wife and deputy principal Yevette Williams have been absent since the start of term.

About 1200 students attend the school.