Kura bus tests bilingual law

By Angela Gregory

When a Maori immersion primary school in Rotoiti raised money for a new bus, it didn't think twice about what to have painted on its side.

Hawea Vercoe, tumuaki [principal] of Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Te Rotoiti thought "kura" extremely apt, given it was the Maori word for school.

However, after the signs were completed a month ago, Mr Vercoe was told by Land Transport that was illegal, as all school buses must have the word "school" clearly visible on their fronts and backs for safety reasons.

Mr Vercoe was now questioning how official an official language of the country really was, given Maori formally gained that status in the 1987 Maori Language Act.

He said the local community was backing what he regards as the school's right to use the word kura and was not interested in a suggested compromise that the word be used alongside school.

"Our tamariki are very proud of their new bus and they are also very proud of their kura sign on it."

Mr Vercoe believed it was important to affirm the significance of te reo Maori.

"Our tamariki need to see that their reo is not just for in the classroom or at school.

It can be legitimately used everywhere."

Mr Vercoe said their signage complied with the size, colour and positional requirements on school buses.

While they could apply for an exemption, he did not see why that should be necessary.

"What sort of message does it send our tamariki about the importance of te reo Maori in today's society if the only way that we can use our reo is by way of an exemption."

Te Ururoa Flavell, Maori Party MP for Waiariki, said the Land Transport position made a mockery of te reo Maori's official language status.

"Almost 10 years after former Minister of Education Wyatt Creech announced a primary school called Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Rotoiti, and designated the school as a kura kaupapa Maori it would appear that the kura is now being constrained in actively promoting use of te reo Maori."

Mr Flavell said the act recognised te reo Maori in law and allowed it to be used in the courts, yet in this case it was deemed illegal.

"I am outraged that our taonga, te reo Maori, is being treated with such disrespect," he said.

Land Transport Safety Authority spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the concern was for children's safety.

It was important motorists recognised school buses and took care when passing them, given children's unpredictability.

"We respect the wishes of the community to protect their language but we have the responsibility to protect the kids."

Mr Knackstedt said the transport legislation was very specific but could allow the option of using both the words school and kura on the buses.

Labour MP Shane Jones, whose children had attended kura kaupapa schools in the Far North, said that was a sensible compromise.

"The safety of the children is of paramount importance."

Mr Jones said he did not think that using the word school alongside kura diminished the visibility of te reo.

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