23 Mar 2015

Ministry settles legal action with kura

7:10 am on 23 March 2015

The Ministry of Education has backed down after it was taken to court over its intervention in a Māori immersion school.

Te Kura Kaupapa o Whangaroa.

Te Kura Kaupapa o Whangaroa. Photo: eCube Building Workshop Limited

The former board of Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Whangaroa took the ministry to court after it was dissolved.

It reached an out of court settlement, two days before the case was due to be heard.

In January last year, 42 of the kura's 85 tamariki were pulled out by their parents, in protest at the way the board of trustees' election process was handled in 2013 and concerns about the safety of children and staff.

The ministry dissolved the board and installed a commissioner, Larry Forbes, to investigate and review what it described as a 'questionable election process'.

At the time, it said Mr Forbes had the backing of Te Runanga o Whangaroa, which is made up of representatives from the Whangaroa community and local marae.

In September, the ministry's head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, defended its actions in a statement citing 'serious concerns about the way the board of trustees was elected, following a large number of complaints from whānau at the kura'.

Ms Casey also said the ministry had complete confidence in Mr Forbes.

"He has a strong track record of resolving challenging issues in schools and working with school communities," she said.

She has since said the commissioner's review report supported its decision that the election was not valid.

The former board, unhappy at being removed, took the ministry to court. By mid-December Mr Forbes was replaced by Hōhepa Campbell, who has just overseen a new round of school board elections.

The results of that election are expected to be announced on 26 March and will return the school to self-governance.

The kura's former board chair Terry Smith, who is the spokesperson for the school's whānau and former trustees, has stood for re-election to the board.

Mr Smith is adamant the board's election in 2013 was valid and while he said the out of court settlement was a more constructive way of moving forward, he remained critical of the ministry.

"They didn't have the understanding of kura kaupapa and that's the learning for them, that there are some areas of difference and those need to be clarified.

"This is in part an acknowledgement of that and there's a need to do some work to clarify some of that stuff so this situation doesn't happen again."

Mr Smith said the controversy had caused a lot of anxiety in the whānau, but he hoped there would be better outcomes in the future when the ministry interacted with kura kaupapa.

Ministry accused of betrayal

However, the parents who removed their children from Te Kura Kaupapa Māori O Whangaroa said they had been betrayed by the Ministry of Education.

Gary Bramley, of Ngāti Rua, who is the spokesperson for the whānau who withdrew their children, questioned why the ministry did a flip-flop.

"We should never have got to this point. We approached them and said that we had a concern. They told us they needed time to build a case and we went along with that," he said.

"It took them a very long time to build that case and they assured us that it was necessary and they weren't going to back down and they needed good evidence to support the allegations that the board was not properly elected, and the other issues.

"But then when it came down to it and they settled out of court they actually betrayed the trust that we'd built up in them. Why go through that waiting and that building up of evidence if you're then going to just settle out of court and make decisions that don't involve the people that it affects?"

Elections a new phase

Despite the Ministry of Education saying it had complete confidence in Mr Forbes and that he carried out his role at the kura in an effective manner, it said in a statement the intervention process had moved into a different phase as the school moved towards board of trustee elections.

"We decided it was important to have a Commissioner to oversee this phase that had particular skills, such as a strong knowledge of Te Aho Matua and fluency in Te Reo Māori".

It earlier said the ministry would enter discussions with runanga to put together a jointly agreed work programme "to address wider issues that relate to Kura Kaupapa Māori that adhere to Te Aho Matua."

The ministry hoped the programme would commence in Term 2 this year.

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