Education Minister Hekia Parata came under fire today in Parliament for creating more struggle for quake affected families bearing the brunt of proposed closures, mergers and relocation of Christchurch schools.
Parents are protesting, holding public meetings, lobbying MPs and signing petitions over the Government's proposed $1 billion changes to the educational landscape in Christchurch.
There has been widespread panic and confusion over the announcement that 31 schools face closure or merger. The Ministry of Education backtracked on the afternoon of its announcement stressing they were only proposals and not firm plans.
Greens' education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty has called for urgent debate on the Government's proposals for Christchurch schools.
"We're not denying the need to change _ it would be foolish to pretend that anything can go back to the way it was.''
She said it was an opportunity to reassess education in Christchurch but the release of the renewal plan last week was unsuccessful and had "created an earthquake of its own.''
"It's been communicated with us strongly that there are real problems.''
Ms Delahunty said it was very difficult for schools to accept the rationale if they did not have any earthquake damage.
Labour's earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said the minister had poorly handled the announcement by failing to protect families.
She said schools should have been briefed before the public announcement last Thursday to minimise the impact of the unexpected news on parents.
"Families have relied on these schools for stability and normality after the earthquakes.''
Ms Parata defended the decision to brief schools on the same day the media found out.
"In weighing up all of the circumstances and factors, I chose to brief schools first at 10am ... with the expectation the embargo of 2pm would give them the opportunity to speak to their schools.''
The embargo was extended until 4pm to allow schools to inform parents, but was broken by several media outlets.
Minister of Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee defended the Government's proposals for Christchurch schools, saying change was inevitable.
"We are tackling it in as smooth a way as possible. Yes, there will be some people who don't like the way we're handling it.
"173 schools out of 215 got the green light to go ahead, repair and get on with things. That is overwhelmingly positive.''
A consultation with Christchurch schools will continue until June next year.
School wins reprieve from closure or merger
Meanwhile, one of the Christchurch schools which feared closure or merger with a cross-city rival has won a reprieve after crunch talks with education ministry bosses.
Shirley Boys' High School teachers, parents and pupils were stunned by the Government announcement last Thursday that it may have to merge with Christchurch Boys.
But after widespread confusion and panic over the announcement that 31 schools face closure or merger, the ministry backtracked to stress they only had proposals for the schools and no firm plans.
Shirley Boys board of trustees chairman Tony Deavoll and principal John Laurenson met ministry officials and received confirmation it would stay on its site at least for the next four years.
Further information on its future would have to be discussed, school officials said, and more detailed geotechnical reports are also needed.
Two Catholic primary schools may combine
It was also revealed today that two Christchurch Catholic primary schools may combine as a result of the Canterbury earthquakes.
Following severe earthquake damage to St Paul's School, Dallington, the Catholic Diocese is proposing to combine the school with Our Lady of Fatima School in Mairehau.
The two would form a new school on the current site of Our Lady of Fatima School for the start of the 2015 year.
Currently St Paul's is housed on the Ministry of Education's Champion St site until the end of 2013 with a right to extend this until the end of the 2014 school year.
Catholic Education Office manager Mike Nolan said the Minister of Education had agreed in principle to support the Bishop of Christchurch's request for a consultation process on this proposal.
That consultation would be undertaken by the Ministry of Education.
"Each school in the Diocese has already been notified about this proposal. The next step would be a formal community consultation on the proposal during Term Four,'' he said.
St Paul's, Holy Family (Burwood) and Our Lady of Fatima parishes had already combined prior to the earthquakes as a result of the Bishop's consultation process on the provision of Sunday Mass in the Catholic Diocese of Christchurch.
Of all the other diocesan Catholic integrated schools in the greater Christchurch area, only Marian College is not on its original site.
It is presently situated beside the Catholic Basilica on Barbadoes St awaiting a further geotechnical reassessment of its former North Parade site in August next year.
- APNZBy Kurt Bayer @KurtBayerAPNZ Email Kurt, Kate Shuttleworth @K8Shuttleworth Email Kate, Christchurch Star staff