Ministry delays release of school info

The Ministry of Education warned Christchurch principals about an impending Official Information Act release, before delaying the release at the eleventh hour.

It comes just one month after an investigation by the Ombudsman that found the ministry ''acted wrongly'' in the way it handled OIA requests from schools, government agencies and individuals on the proposals to close or merge Christchurch schools.

On December 10, The Press requested under the act copies of submissions that schools slated to close or merge under a major overhaul had sent to the ministry.

Of the 31 schools that responded to the ministry, 21 had already shared their submissions with The Press.

The OIA request was refused at 3.30pm on January 29 because ''the information requested will soon be made publicly available by the ministry''.

A ministry spokesperson said today: "We were planning on releasing the information earlier. However, we underestimated the amount of work involved. The submissions will be released as soon as possible."

Last night, The Press was forwarded an email from one of the schools slated to close or merge, sent by a regional operations senior adviser from the ministry.

The adviser said: ''This email is to let you know that as a result of an OIA request the material supplied to the ministry as part of schools' response to the closure/merger proposals will be released to the media on 29 January.''

The email added: "Deletions have been made under section 9(2)(a) of the act to protect the privacy of natural persons and under 9(2)(f)(iii) of the act to maintain the constitutional convention protecting the neutrality of officials.

'''We have removed all pictures and names of individuals from the submissions. Also, where there have been petitions or similar, we will just be saying that a petition or survey or whatever, with (number) of responses was included.''

Last month, Ombudsman David McGee investigated complaints from schools, government agencies and individuals about the way the ministry handled requests for information on the proposals to close or merge Christchurch schools.

One of the most common complaints was that official information was refused, at least in part, on the basis that the information concerned would eventually be made public.

McGee found the ministry had ''acted wrongly''.

''Schools and parents should not have to ferret out information by making official information requests.''

He found the ministry wrongly advised the Christchurch City Council on how to reply to a request for information and, when the council challenged the advice, failed to acknowledge it was wrong.

The ministry was also wrong to advise two principals to withdraw their official information requests in order to receive a better response.

''Any suggestion that a government agency must bypass the Official Information Act in order to allow a more efficient provision of information is unacceptable,'' he said.

The Press