Editorial: Parata fails to meet required standard

It's a bit rich for the Minister of Education to agree to meet with the board of Salisbury School now. Why did she snub the board throughout a so-called consultation process as deficient as the Government's decision to close the Richmond-based facility for girls with complex needs?

The minister, Hekia Parata, was invited on a number of occasions to meet with the board, visit the school and see first-hand what happens there. She refused point blank, suggesting a closed mind on a complex issue.

It was only in October - two months after releasing her interim decision to close Salisbury - that she finally agreed to meet board representatives, and only in her office. Even then, she appears to have taken little notice of the board's strong, passionate, eloquent - and, as it turns out, legally sound - case against closure.

Ms Parata even visited Nelson during the decision-making period. Only four schools were involved in her original, flawed, decision to close two of them, including Salisbury, and retain two others.

Given what was involved, four meetings across a year of to-ing and fro-ing would hardly have added much to the minister's workload. Had she bothered to engage with the board and pay sufficient attention to their concerns, a lot of unnecessary angst could have been avoided for all: the Nelson community, the school and its supporters and staff, and in particular the very vulnerable pupils at the centre of the campaign to keep the school open.

It is appropriate that the minister has decided not to appeal the High Court's finding against her decision on Salisbury. Justice Robert Dobson's finding left no ground at all for the minister and her ministry advisers to stand on. His written judgment found the process the ministry followed was deficient and unlawful.

Perhaps even more alarming was his finding that the decision had disregarded the obvious greater risk of sexual abuse for vulnerable girls if they were to be schooled at what is currently a single sex special needs boys' school. "No great leap of logic" was needed to recognise the validity of these concerns, said Justice Dobson. Indeed - but it was a leap too far for the minister and her advisers. It is telling that the main grounds the school went to court were spelled out in the school's final submission to the minister. She ignored it completely.

Some concerns remain. Ms Parata is only saying Salisbury will "remain open next year for students currently attending the school". What, then, of potential new pupils who meet the ministry threshhold for attendance at the school? The school year ended with just 44 on the Salisbury roll, the maximum stay for any girl is two years, and half of this year's students were due to return home this week. Is the minister already working on ways to shackle the school even further, while plotting another closure attempt?

It has been a difficult year for education. The change to Novopay has been a disaster - if not the fault of Ms Parata - while her handling of proposals to close schools in Canterbury has been problematic. Hopefully, there soon will be a new minister of education with an open mind on special places like Salisbury. Ms Parata's performance stands in marked contrast to the Salisbury board's which, on behalf of these most vulnerable girls, has been outstanding.