Rotorua MP Todd McClay was shouted down during a feisty hikoi at Parliament today to save Kawerau Intermediate School from closure.
About 150 red-uniformed pupils, surrounded by "Save our School" signs, gave a passionate plea to protest the proposal to turn six Kawerau schools into three, including closing the decile 1b intermediate school.
A stirring haka, led by 12-year-old Kunere Timoti, was watched by several MPs including Kelvin Davis, Tariana Turia, Te Ururoa Flavell, Catherine Delahunty, and Hone Harawira.
National's Mr McClay, the school's local MP, then welcomed the group to Parliament, but he tempered his speech by saying that he would have to vote in Parliament to support the final decision of Education Minister Anne Tolley.
"I'm here to listen, to work through the issues," he said, before pleading with the crowd to think about the best solution for all Kawerau.
But supporters of the school started to shout Mr McClay down.
"The kids are right here," yelled one.
"You don't listen," said another.
School principal Daryl Aim told Mr McClay there were two distinct New Zealands: one was symbolised by the kids at the protest, the other by the line of private school students were passed by the protest, resplendent in their "beautiful blazers".
"You've got decile 1 kids sitting here. We clothe them, we feed them, we look after them.
"I don't want to hear that bloody line," he told Mr McClay.
"If you take the school out of Kawerau these kids will hop on buses and got to Whakatane ... Start listening."
He gave a petition with 2351 signatures to Mr McClay.
Mr Aim told the Herald the speech from Mr McClay was a "complete cop-out" and if the intermediate school was closed, "kids will leave town".
"It will decimate the town. We subsidise uniforms, we subsidise trips, we subsidise everything."
Under the proposal, four primary schools would become two, the intermediate would be closed, and the college would be retained.
Mrs Tolley said the school had until June 1 to make a submission on the proposal.
"They've got 28 days to change my mind."
She said there had been two rounds of consultation and the six Kawerau schools were losing about 60 students every year.
But Mr Aim disputed that, saying the numbers on the school rolls had stabilised since 2001.
Most of the community wanted to keep the intermediate school, he said.
"Four of the six schools wanted option B, which would have kept the college, intermediate and two primaries. The council wanted that. And 70 per cent of the population said they wanted that and she just didn't listen."
But Kawerau College principal Steve Lewis told the Herald yesterday that said a long-term view needed to be taken.
"The question becomes what structure will be best equipped to meet the needs of our children and grandchildren ... Holding on to how things are today will not provide this."
Mr Aim and a school delegation was meeting with Mrs Tolley after the hikoi.
"I'm going to push her for an answer today," Mr Aim said.
"There's an election coming up. Let's get stuck into them about that."
Any changes to Kawerau schools would be implemented from term one 2012.