Parents face prosecution over unregistered school

The Ministry of Education is poised to prosecute parents and management of an unregistered school which has defied repeated orders to close.

Parents and management of Orauta School near Moerewa, about 70km north of Whangarei, have been sent letters warning they had seven days to enrol their children at a registered school and cease operating or the ministry would "consider prosecution".

The rural school has defied the order stating it had a right to remain open as Maori were guaranteed the right to govern their own matters - tino rangatiratanga - under the 1835 Declaration of Independence.

Parents had previously been warned in another Ministry of Education letter in January that they could face prosecution but no action was taken by the ministry.

The seven days lapsed on Friday and today the school still had about 35 pupils and no pupils had been withdrawn.

Orauta School board of trustees chairman Ken Brown said parents and management were "not scared" by the prospect of being prosecuted.

Instead, he said, they were "seriously considering" laying a complaint with police, because the ministry had used "financial terrorism" to try to get parents to obey the ministry's orders.

Parents could face a fine up to $1000 while school management could be fined up to $200 for each day of illegal operation, which began on February 1.

Mr Brown believed the threats of prosecution were a "threat against the well-being of our community".

Orauta School was one of eight Northland primary schools ordered to close this year by the Ministry of Education so extra resources could be "unlocked" for other Northland schools.

The school offered to buy its three buildings from the Government for $3 and issued an "injunction" notice against the Government to return the school land to Maori.

Ministry of Education Northland manager Chris Eve said the ministry had hired a document service company to hand-deliver the letters of warning between March 11 and March 15.

While he had not received any notification that parents had withdrawn children or that the school had closed, Mr Eve said the ministry was "still interested in dialogue" to bring resolution to the issue.

"Our main concern remains that students are in a school that isn't registered ... We're not sure of the quality of education they're getting," Mr Eve said.

Orauta School's Ken Brown said: "We're seriously considering filing a complaint against the minister (Associate Education Minister David Benson-Pope) and the ministry because we see it as a threat against the well-being of our community," Mr Brown said.

He welcomed the threat of legal action as the school community believed it had a "strong case" for proving that Maori had a right to govern themselves and therefore the right to run a school.

The school did not recognise the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Education as the Government had no "written constitution" to rule over Maori, Mr Brown said.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE (WHANGAREI)

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