Court challenge option for schools

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 27/09/2012

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Canterbury schools unhappy with the Government's final decision on their future can take their fight to the High Court.

But they will have to pay the bill, and the court would look only to ensure correct procedures were followed rather than debating the merits of the decision.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has proposed closing 13 schools, merging 18 into nine, relocating seven schools and closing another five and making them part of a single campus in Aranui for year 1 to 13 pupils.

Another 12 schools are affected by proposed changes.

Some schools have vowed to do everything they can to remain open, and for some that could mean seeking a judicial review in the High Court.

Ouruhia School principal Mark Ashmore-Smith said his school would do everything possible to ensure a sensible decision was made. The school is slated to close.

"We'd like the decision to be made on the best education grounds, not the best economic grounds."

He said the school would have to seek legal advice before going to the High Court, but it would explore all options.

Aorangi School's board of trustees sought a judicial review from the High Court in 2009 to stop the school's closure, but it was unsuccessful.

Former Aorangi board member Andrew Oh said it was "a hell of a procedure to go through". He said schools were not able to challenge government policy; they could challenge only the process.

He said the cost was between $20,000 and $30,000, and the school received a lot of free legal advice.

"We never thought we would win that fight but we did it because we felt we owed the community, who simply could not be serviced by other schools," he said.

Court action can be considered once the consultation process has finished and Parata has made her decision.

The official consultation process will begin in the next couple of weeks when schools receive a letter from the ministry, which will include a date that the school needs to respond by.

A ministry spokesman said once responses had been received, Parata would consider the proposed closures.

The ministry would not say how long this process could take.

If the decision is that a school should close, the board will be given a further period of at least 28 days to provide any arguments in favour of the school remaining open.

This could include additional information or factors that had not already been taken into account.

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