School denies sex risk to pupils

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 13/12/2012
Halswell Residential pupils
DON SCOTT/Fairfax NZ

GOODBYE: Taiawhio Grimes, 13, of Westport, left, and Josh Powley, 14, of Tapora in Northland, say goodbye to one of the Halswell Residential College rabbits and to principal Janine Harrington after their final assembly for the year yesterday.

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Education Minister Hekia Parata

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A High Court ruling that claims special-needs girls risk sexual and physical abuse if moved to a Christchurch boys' school has been criticised by their proposed new school.

The High Court's findings, released on Tuesday, said Education Minister Hekia Parata's plans to move girls from Salisbury School in Nelson to Halswell Residential College in Christchurch were unlawful.

Justice Dobson said the move disregarded "the prospect of greater risk of sexual or physical abuse" to the girls if they shifted to a co-educational special-needs school.

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

"The information that is now being portrayed in the media and that was recently presented at the High Court is misleading and vague and is not a reflection of safety at Halswell Residential College," he said.

"A safe learning and living environment is a priority for this board and the staff."

The board had welcomed Parata's preliminary decision in August to retain a national co-ed residential school for pupils with intellectual difficulties.

Salisbury School's board and parents strongly opposed the move, welcoming the result of the judicial review.

"To date, the board has been respectful of the path Salisbury has chosen to take," Buckland said.

"However, we can no longer remain silent in view of the unfounded comments bringing Halswell Residential College, its staff, current and past students and family/whanau into disrepute.

"We strongly urge a respectful dialogue that regards the achievements and successful outcomes for the many past and present learners, staff and community of our school."

He said the school had run a co-ed satellite class for four years and had had some female pupils since the February 2011 earthquake.

Parata said yesterday she would "carefully consider" the High Court decision, and ruled out appealing it.

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