University helps schools in fight

TINA LAW
Last updated 05:00 16/05/2013

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Canterbury University is leading a free legal advice service to schools looking to challenge the Government's closure and merger decisions.

The university's school of law associate professor Chris Gallavin has assembled a group of law experts because of his passion for Christchurch and what was happening to its schools.

"The university cannot afford to be aloof and detached from the city that it serves," he said.

The Student Volunteer Army had shown great things could happen when the university engaged with the community, he said.

"This is the new look of Canterbury University."

The legal team has already met the principals of about eight affected schools.

The team includes Gallavin, Lane Neave partner Duncan Webb, and university associate professor John Caldwell.

Students had also volunteered to help out, Gallavin said.

Phillipstown School had already been identified by the team as having a strong case for a judicial review if Education Minister Hekia Parata goes ahead with a plan to merge the school at Woolston School next year.

A final decision on the fate of Phillipstown School and 16 other Christchurch schools is expected by the end of this month.

The interim decision for Phillipstown School, released on February 18, was materially different from the proposal the school was consulted on, Gallavin said.

The original proposal had Phillipstown and Woolston schools merging at the existing Linwood College site in 2018, and the college would move to its lower fields on Ferry Rd.

A judicial review looks into the process followed in making the decision, rather than looking into the merits of the closure.

Gallavin said deficiencies in the process had been so controversial that the Ombudsman's Office had made the rare move of instigating a review of the process of closing Canterbury schools.

Even with free legal advice, a judicial review could cost schools between $20,000 and $30,000, Gallavin said, and would likely come too late to save Phillipstown School and the others affected.

Phillipstown School principal Tony Simpson said the board had yet to decide if it would seek a judicial review.

People had even started donating money to help the school fight for its survival, Simpson said.

The school is planning a protest day on Thursday next week.

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