School goes to court over closure

JODY O'CALLAGHAN
Last updated 14:46 30/06/2013

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A Christchurch school will be lodging judicial review papers with the High Court tomorrow, as the community continues the vow to fight its proposed closure.

Protests by Phillipstown School's supporters in May were ignored when a week later Education Minister Hekia Parata decided the school's merger with Woolston School would go ahead from January.

The 163-pupil primary school saw one building damaged, with an estimated $3.5 million cost to fix over 10 years, and surrounding land classified as technical category 2 and 3.

The minister's rationale for change was that the site had liquefaction, and both Phillipstown and Woolston schools had reasonably small rolls in an area with an over-supply of primary school places. 

The school's board of trustees today announced it would be lodging papers with the High Court that would initiate a judicial review, that looks into the process followed in making the decision.

Chairman Wayne West said the process was flawed and in breach of the Education Act 1989. 

Information released after the final decision ''could have come out earlier'' when it was asked for, he said.

''It's rather frustrating.''

''It is tremendously sad that we have to take legal action but it has become the only option left to keep Phillipstown School open.''

The community and parents were still hurting, and they had their fingers crossed there would be an outcome of the review before it had to close, he said.

''The best outcome would be that we stay where we are and stay supporting the community the way we have been for 137 years.''

Canterbury University, which led a free legal advice service to schools looking to challenge the Government's closure and merger decisions, had already identified Phillipstown School as having a a strong case for a judicial review.

School of law associate professor Chris Gallavin then told The Press in May that the interim decision was materially different from the proposal the schools was consulted on.

Originally, it had Phillipstown and Woolston schools merging at the existing Linwood College site in 2018, and the college would move to its lower fields on Ferry Rd.

Gallavin said deficiencies in the process had been so controversial that the Ombudsman's Office had made the rare move of instigating a review of the process of closing Canterbury schools.

Even with free legal advice, a judicial review could cost schools between $20,000 and $30,000, Gallavin said, and would likely come too late to save Phillipstown School and the others affected.

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