Salisbury School mounts legal bid

Richmond's Salisbury School will take on the Minister of Education in the High Court today, in what could be its final chance to stop its closure.

The school's board is seeking a judicial review of Minister of Education Hekia Parata's decision to close the school, and this will be heard in the High Court at Wellington.

As things stand, the Richmond school will be closed, along with the McKenzie Residential School in Christchurch, in favour of coeducational residential facilities - Halswell Residential College in Christchurch and Westbridge Residential School in Auckland.

There will be an expanded wrap-around service for children elsewhere in the country.

Salisbury has been open since 1914 and now has 62 staff and a notional roll of 80 students from around the country.

But the school disagrees with the plan, with staff and parents concerned that sending the girls to a coeducational school will put them at risk.

Lawyer Mai Chen, who provided legal advice to the school when it made its final submission on the plan, has said there were questions around whether the legislative tests had been met.

The school had been told it would be closed from January, but to do so the students would need to be shifted to Halswell.

But under the Education Act, Halswell cannot become a coeducational school until the 2014 school year.

There was also a concern over whether the ministry had properly advised the minister of the possible risks by sending them to a coeducational school.

Ms Parata has declined to say how confident she was that the decision to close could go ahead as planned, or whether Halswell School would be able to safely take girls.

She said it was disappointing that the school had chosen to go down this path as the ministry had provided a full and transparent process.

Nelson MP Nick Smith, a former education minister who has said his loyalties had been "badly split" by the process, said based on past experience of judicial reviews it would be unusual for the court to overturn the minister's decision but a judge could require the minister to reconsider and redo the process.

For now, the process has been halted, with Ms Parata agreeing to take no further steps to close Salisbury School, pending determination of the proceedings.

Salisbury has advised parents that they now have the choice to either work with the Education Ministry to develop a wraparound programme for their daughter for next year, or they can wait for the outcome of the judicial review before making important decisions about their child's future.

After the minister's initial decision was announced in August, the school had given the minister two alternative plans.

One involved maintaining two single-sex schools in their current locations but downsizing the roll and streamlining the services, governance and funding of each.

This would have saved the ministry $3.2 million, according to the school.

The other option involved having two separate single-sex schools on the Salisbury School site, with the schools being physically separate but with an integrated management and governance structure. This plan would have saved $7.3m.

The process of deciding to close the two schools cost the ministry $24,938, and adapting the all-boys Halswell College to accept girls from Salisbury will cost about $2.6m.

Meanwhile, the ministry has began advertising for a principal's position at Halswell School.

The Nelson Mail