OPINION: Emotions are running high after the sacking last week of the principal of Christchurch Girls' High School, Prue Taylor.
The dismissal appeared to come as a bolt from the blue. Parents and pupils were told of it last Friday in a terse message on the school's website. The school's board of trustees released a brief media statement saying they had "terminated" Taylor's employment.
The only explanation the board gave was that there had been "issues and tensions between the principal and the board of trustees over a long period of time". The board referred to a Education Review Office report published in August which referred to these matters and to ERO's belief that they needed to be resolved quickly.
Coming as it did near the end of term and on the brink of important school examinations, pupils and their parents were concerned and perplexed. There was also considerable sympathy for Taylor personally, who had been at the school for 13 years and was well liked. She had, many said, led the badly damaged school well in the trying aftermath of the earthquakes, despite losing her husband in the collapse of the Canterbury Television building. Many called for the board to release more information.
That call is understandable but, in the process now under way, that is difficult. Taylor has said that, while she had expected she might be dismissed, she does not accept it. She has indicated that she intends to contest it in the Employment Relations Authority and that she is considering seeking temporary reinstatement.
With this legal process under way, it is difficult for the board to say much more than it already has. Privacy considerations and the need to respect the integrity of the legal process inhibit them from doing so. Indeed, at least one lawyer has suggested that the board has said more than it should have in making a public announcement about the dismissal, although given the inevitability that something would have emerged on the matter eventually, it is hard to see how it could have avoided making some announcement.
Despite the appearance of abruptness to the dismissal, the board has spoken of problems existing since 2009. The problems are unlikely to be purely personal, as some might suspect, because within that period elections have changed the composition of the board.
Anyone who looks at the brief sentences in the ERO report referring to the problems would have been alarmed by it: "Professional relationships between the board, principal and senior managers are of concern," it said.
"This situation has the potential to hinder the school's progress towards achieving its vision and direction . . ." Although couched in the soft bureaucratese the ERO typically uses, clearly the problems that appear to exist are fundamental to the school's future.
Under employment law, the processes for dealing with employee problems are clear cut. Abrupt dismissals are not usually possible. Moreover, if a dismissal is made without sufficient cause or without following the correct processes, the result can be costly for the liable party. Whether the correct process has been followed and whether there is substance to the reasons for Taylor's dismissal must now be determined by the Employment Relations Authority.
In the meantime, the school should continue with business as usual, as the acting principal, Peter Sawyer, has said, and parents must remain patient.
- © Fairfax NZ News