Parata did not heed warning over closure

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 21/12/2012

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Education Minister Hekia Parata ignored warnings over the closure of Nelson's Salisbury School in a face-to-face meeting with education experts and board members.

Her handling of those warnings raises fresh questions over her culpability for a series of public relations disasters that led to the shock resignation of her Secretary for Education Lesley Longstone on Wednesday.

Ms Parata has refused to front for questions after State Services Commissioner Iain Rennie confirmed strains in her relationship with Ms Longstone were largely to blame for the resignation.

Prime Minister John Key was also unavailable to take questions for a second day.

It emerged yesterday that he had been doing a round of private radio station Christmas appearances on the day Ms Longstone's resignation was announced, and took part in a "mock" gay marriage ceremony.

Mr Key's only comment so far is that he has "complete confidence" in his minister.

The Government has been embroiled in controversy over education blunders, including the Novopay debacle, Christchurch school closures, and a High Court ruling overturning Ms Parata's decision to close Nelson's Salisbury special school.

Helen McDonnell, chairwoman of the Salisbury School board of trustees, said that if Ms Parata and senior ministry officials had taken the school's concerns seriously, they would never have had to seek a judicial review.

The High Court agreed with evidence presented by the school that young female students would be put at risk of sexual abuse if forced to move to a mixed sex facility for teenagers with intellectual impairment.

Ms McDonnell said the school made Ms Parata and her senior officials aware in writing, and in person, of internationally published research about the risks to intellectually impaired adolescents in residential settings.

"We advised the minister face-to-face that ‘to ignore this evidence would be at your peril'. This advice was ignored."

The minister had also been presented with warnings later repeated in affidavits that were presented to the court from experts in the field. One of those experts had been at the meeting with Ms Parata.

"The High Court hearing could so easily have been avoided and common sense could have prevailed had the consultation process been robust, open and fair," Ms McDonnell said.

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