No public holiday at two top Waikato schools

JENNA LYNCH
Last updated 13:35 06/02/2014
schools, waitangi day
PETER DRURY/Fairfax NZ

School’s in: Students at Waikato’s two top private schools will be hitting the books today instead of taking the day off for Waitangi commemorations.

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It's business as usual for two high-profile Waikato private schools which are opting to ignore today's public holiday.

Students will be hitting the books at St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton and St Peter's School in Cambridge while their counterparts at public schools enjoy a break and the country observes Waitangi Day.

St Paul's principal, Grant Lander, said as far as he knew, the school had always elected to open on Waitangi Day as it was too close to the beginning of the term. It was considered "disruptive" to students to give them the day off.

Lander also told the Waikato Times if it was Anzac Day on the chopping block, it might be a different story.

"Luckily I haven't had to deal with Anzac Day. That one is a much more emotional issue, I think."

He said the school's biggest proportion of population was its boarding students and it was important to get them settled into the new school year.

"It would be really unfair and disruptive for students to go back home so soon after they've started."

And St Peter's principal, Steve Robb, mirrored his calls, saying that it was about "the rhythm of school".

"We have 420 boarders here so we keep that rhythm going for the whole school."

Both schools will be running a chapel service to commemorate the significance of Waitangi celebrations, but after the ceremonies finish it will be business as usual.

Lander said he had never been faced with any complaints about the students being required to attend classes, and he said those who were involved in iwi celebrations were excused from school. Likewise, as it was a public holiday, any students whose families had organised other activities would not be penalised for missing their classes.

"In the four years I've been here, I've never had an email, phone call, nothing. No complaints. I think people appreciate the practicality of it."

The decision to keep students at school was not an option for state or state-integrated schools who are bound by Ministry of Education rules which strictly forbid them from teaching on weekends or public holidays.

Private schools weren't subject to these rules, MOE head of sector enablement and support, Katrina Casey, said.

But even given the option of teaching on Waitangi Day, Hillcrest High principal, Kelvin Whiting, said he wouldn't dream of it.

"I certainly wouldn't be considering it at all," he said. "It's a holiday. We're recognising Waitangi, which is the founding document of New Zealand."

And with all the costs involved, it's unlikely state schools could even afford to. Keeping the classrooms running doesn't come cheap.

Hamilton Girls' High School principal Marie Gordon said the school would not stay open on Waitangi Day, if it was an option.

Lander said it cost St Paul's about $20,000 to open its doors today, while according to Robb, St Peters was likely to face a much higher bill of about $30,000-$40,000.

"It's a significant financial commitment as a school, but I think the cost is justified by the reason," he said.

Both schools will be observing the public holiday later in the term, rewarding students with a four-day weekend.

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- Waikato Times

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