School closure ruled illegal

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 07:08 12/12/2012

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Education Minister Hekia Parata has endured another blow after a judge ruled her decision to close a residential girls' school unlawful.

The Government planned shutting Salisbury School in Nelson and moving the students to the Halswell Residential College for boys in Christchurch next year.

Parents and the school board fought the move, arguing that sending the girls to a co-ed school would put them at risk of abuse.

Justice Robert Dobson agreed that the decision disregarded "the prospect of greater risk of sexual or physical abuse" to the girls if they were sent to a co-ed special-needs school.

He said the Government was also wrong to assume girls could be enrolled at Halswell while it legally remained a single-sex boys' school.

Kirsten Smith, mother of 13-year-old Courtney, was celebrating the legal win last night. She hoped Ms Parata would not appeal against the ruling and call off the proposal.

"I've rung the school tonight and the girls were watching the news. The relief is just indescribable," she said.

"Under no circumstances would I have ever sent my daughter to a co-ed residential school."

Lawyer Mai Chen called on the Government to overturn the decision. "The school board has lost confidence in the minister and they don't want the same minister to take the decision again.

"The judgment is very critical. It shows the ministry didn't do their homework," she said.

The board had presented Ms Parata with research which showed the girls were seven times more likely to be abused in a co-ed school, but this was ignored. The school could not afford to fight an appeal, she said, and ran cake stalls last weekend to pay their current legal bills.

National has also faced a public backlash over its plans to close schools in post-quake Canterbury.

Labour's associate education spokesman Chris Hipkins said Ms Parata was "riding roughshod" over due process. "The High Court ruling on Salisbury is a victory for the parents' persistence, common sense and proper process."

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- The Dominion Post

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