Salisbury decision another setback for Parata

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 12/12/2012
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FAIRFAX
Education Minister Hekia Parata

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Embattled Education Minister Hekia Parata has endured another blow after a judge ruled her decision to close a residential girls' school unlawful.

The Government proposed shutting Salisbury School in Nelson and moving the students to the Halswell Residential College for boys in Christchurch next year.

Parents and the school board fought the move, arguing that sending the girls to a co-ed school would put them at risk of abuse.

Justice Robert Dobson agreed the decision disregarded "the prospect of greater risk of sexual or physical abuse" to the girls if they were sent to a co-ed special needs school.

He said the Government was also wrong to assume girls could be enrolled at Halswell college while it legally remained a single-sex boys' school.

Kirsten Smith, Auckland-based mother of 13-year-old Courtney, was celebrating the legal victory last night. She hoped Parata would not appeal against the ruling and put a stop to the proposal.

"I've rung the school tonight and the girls were watching the news. The relief is just indescribable," she said.

"Under no circumstances would I have ever sent my daughter to a co-ed residential school. I was so stressed about what we were going to do next year, we didn't have a school for Courtney to go to."

Lawyer Mai Chen called on the Government to overturn the decision.

"The school board has lost confidence in the minister and they don't want the same minister to take the decision again," she said. "The judgment is very critical. It shows the ministry didn't do their homework."

The board had presented Parata with research that showed the girls were seven times more likely to be abused in a co-ed school, but this was ignored.

"The school can't afford to fight if the Government lodges an appeal and ran cake stalls last weekend to pay their current legal bills," Chen said.

"I would be horrified if they appealed. They need to listen to what the judge is telling them."

National has also faced a public backlash over plans to close schools in Canterbury after the earthquakes.

Labour's associate education spokesman, Chris Hipkins, said Parata was "riding roughshod" over due process.

"The High Court ruling today on Salisbury is a victory for the parents' persistence, common sense and proper process. It's also a slap in the face for a minister of the Crown to have their actions ruled unlawful," he said.

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Greens education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said the school has been vindicated, and she criticised Parata for not listening to parents and teachers.

"Combined with her decisions about Christchurch school closures, it seems this minister is targeting schools with the most vulnerable and fragile students for closure.

"The prime minster must now look very seriously at whether Hekia Parata is the best person for the job in education."

Salisbury has a roll of 80 students from around New Zealand.

- Fairfax Media

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