A Glen Eden mum and dad find out the hard way that private schools can be a law unto themselves, reports Sean Gillespie.
Angel Garden's 8-year-old daughter learned some tough lessons at school last year. She found out that complaining about a group of boys bullying her might get her kicked out of school - and her two younger sisters would also be given their marching orders.
It was also a tough lesson for the girls' mum and dad. Ms Garden and Steve Paris had no idea Titirangi Steiner Kindergarten and School could exclude their children without notice or need for justification.
Ms Garden says it's crazy that some private schools can legally evict people without notice or warning and with no chance to appeal. "Our eldest child loved the curriculum and we were determined to help her thrive there by making her class the safe environment the school claims it was."
The school investigated the alleged bullying but found no cause for concern.
Ms Garden says the school eventually, and with no warning, asked the family not to return. "When we went to the school to demand an explanation, on the record, for this sudden and violent action, they refused to talk to us, issued us with trespass notices and called the police within minutes of our arrival.
"Our children, especially our eldest, have been severely affected by their treatment here, to the extent that we are seeking help for them."
Principal Mark Thornton says the decision to sever ties with the family had nothing to do with their children's behaviour.
"Because we're a private school, parents ask us if we will accept their children. We got to the point where we were no longer willing to accept the children because of the behaviour of the parents."
After they were made aware of the bullying, Ms Garden and Mr Paris made an agreement with a teacher to come to the school for two weeks to watch over their daughter.
Mr Thornton says this had made staff, children and other parents uncomfortable.
"Those intrusions were too frequent and were damaging to the school life." He says there had also been a difference of opinion between the school and the family on student behaviour management. This contributed to the school decision to no longer accept the children, he says.
Education laws allow private non-integrated schools such as the Titirangi Steiner School to operate with minimal government regulation. Unlike their public counterparts, these schools may expel students as they see fit.
Ms Garden says many parents who send their children to private schools aren't aware of this. She's campaigning for compulsory disclaimers by the schools stating to parents their rights, and for greater checks and balances in disciplining children.
The family have support in seeking change. In 2008, the Government asked the Law Commission to review the law as it related to private schools.
Last year, the commission recommended changes. Some were drafted into a proposed law last month but others were not. One which failed to make the final cut was a requirement for private schools, when suspending or expelling a pupil, to give parents adequate notice and the opportunity to speak on their children's behalf.
Asked why this was excluded from the bill, Associate Education Minister Heather Roy, of Act, told Parliament on June 11: "Legislating for these requirements would be unnecessary because natural justice and contract law already cover this area."
Another axed recommendation would have made schools reveal, on request, their disciplinary procedures to pupils and their parents when faced with suspension, exclusion or expulsion.
However, Ms Roy said: "No evidence exists to suggest that there are any problems with how private schools currently make disciplinary procedures available to students and parents."
Ms Garden disputes this. She had spent one and half months late last year putting together a 20-page document detailing her family's plight. This was sent to the Ministry of Education.
Despite feeling ignored after a year of fighting the issue, Ms Garden and Mr Paris are far from ready to give up. They are producing a documentary called The Titirangi Three which will address school bullying and whether the law governing our education system is adequate.
While I interviewed Angel and Steve on the public road outside Titirangi Steiner School, a staff member drove up slowly beside us, wound down her window and asked gruffly if we needed help. We said no, and she drove into the school and parked. She then walked past and stood over us, arms folded, staring. I felt uncomfortable and ended the interview. I asked if she would like to say anything. She said no, and walked away. The photographer and I couldn't help but be bemused that, while doing an interview about bullying at the school, a teacher behaved in a manner that appeared to us to be confrontational. - Sean Gillespie.