Salisbury has little confidence in minister

Last updated 13:00 13/12/2012

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Richmond's Salisbury School is calling on the Government to appoint another minister to decide the school's future.

Its call follows a High Court judgment that the decision to close Salisbury residential school for girls and place them in Halswell School in Christchurch was unlawful and did not take into account the girls' safety. Halswell is currently a residential boys school.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has now stated that she will not appeal the decision and the school will remain open next year.

The school's board said it was thankful but was concerned that she would not have an open mind in any decision about the school's future.

Salisbury board chairwoman Helen McDonnell said: "We do not believe the minister intends to retain Salisbury after 2014; her views, and those of her ministry, are clearly pre-determined.

"Therefore, we call on the Government to appoint another minister to take any decisions considered to be necessary."

Ms Parata said that she would seek advice on the matters raised in the judgment and Salisbury would remain open next year "for students currently attending the school".

The school said that meant the first option offered through the national pathway system would be the new wrap-around service. If that did not meet students' needs, then they would have an option of going to Salisbury.

Halswell's board has criticised claims that special-needs girls would risk sexual and physical abuse if moved to the Christchurch boys' school.

Halswell's board chairman Simon Buckland said that the college had robust systems to ensure pupils' safety, including monitoring sleeping arrangements and excluding pupils with adverse sexual behaviour from enrolling.

The Society for the Intellectually Handicapped (IHC) said Salisbury's legal adviser Mai Chen was misleading the public by portraying young men with intellectual disability as sexual predators in the argument about closing Salisbury.

"The ‘evidence' being referred to by Mai Chen is reverting to cliche and feeding public misconceptions about people with intellectual disability," says the IHC director of advocacy Trish Grant.

The Public Service Association is calling for all decisions around special residential school closures to be deferred.

"The ministry was warned that it was rushing this process and that its timeframe for establishing this new national service and closing down the schools was completely unrealistic," said PSA delegate Richard Chalklen.

"The High Court decision calls into question the whole decision-making process."

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The ministry was already scrambling to get the new wrap-around service up and running for next year.

Mr Chalklen said: "It is still trying to employ people, there are no clear policies in place, and Halswell School in Christchurch has been told its current services are being extended by another six months because the new services won't be ready in time."

The rushed process meant that valuable and specialised staff had now been lost as there had been little transfer of expertise into the new system, and they had left to look for other work, he said.

"The ministry was told that creating a new national service, transitioning families and closing schools would be something which would take time and require careful consideration. It should now listen to that and defer all decisions relating to the restructure," he said. Ms Parata plans to meet the Salisbury board next month.

- Nelson

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