Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Christchurch school celebrates legal victory

Protests were held against the Phillipstown School closure, but a legal battle has given the staff, students and families new hope. File photo / Geoff Sloan
Protests were held against the Phillipstown School closure, but a legal battle has given the staff, students and families new hope. File photo / Geoff Sloan

A tiny Christchurch school that today won a David vs Goliath legal battle against a government-forced closure is hosting a victory party tonight.

Education Minister Hekia Parata's decision to close Phillipstown School as part of her $1 billion post-quake city schools shake-up was unlawful, a High Court judge has ruled.

Justice John Fogarty said the decision to close the decile 1 Phillipstown school and merge with nearby Woolston to create a 465-child super-school next January was unlawful.

"I conclude that the Minister has, inadvertently, not consulted to the standard required by the law,'' he said.

The decision was greeted with "tears of joy'' today, and now the school is planning an impromptu party for tonight, which will include a bagpipe performance.

"David won today. Words can't express how we feel,'' says principal Tony Simpson.

"We're thrilled by the judges decision. We feel totally vindicated.

"It's the culmination of months and months of hard work by a number of people.''

The school received the decision around midday, before sharing it with the board, then staff, and then the parents and community. "There were tears of joy,'' said Mr Simpson.

The ministry said the school suffered quake damage, and it made sense to merge its small roll of 163 with another small roll.

But the school was angry over a perceived lack of consultation, and Justice Fogarty agreed.

While the judge was certain the ministry conducted consultation "in good faith'', it had failed to meet the requirements of the Education Act.

Labour's associate education spokeswoman Megan Woods said the process was "botched from beginning to end''.

''[Parata's] faux consultation narrative and her inherent inability to listen to the community were always going to end in tears.''

Ms Parata says she will review carefully the outcome of the judicial review.

"We will urgently examine Justice Fogarty's decision, and our options, including continuing consultation on the issue that was of concern to the court,'' she said.

Whether the ministry will still pursue the school's closure is uncertain.

But Mr Simpson said his door was open to talks with the minister, as well as enrolments for next year.

"We don't want to be nasty about this,'' he said.

"We've received the outcome from the court - we have legal backing now.

"So let's get on with our core business which is caring for really good children and working hard for their interests.''

- APNZ

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