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Northland school protest fails to materialise

By Joseph Aldridge of the Northern Advocate, Peter de Graaf, APNZ -
Minister of Education Hekia Parata.  Photo / Michelle Hyslop
Minister of Education Hekia Parata. Photo / Michelle Hyslop

A protest outside a Northland school has failed to materialise, as a Government-appointed commissioner arrived to take charge of the school.

In a surprise move, Education Minister Hekia Parata sacked the school's board of trustees late yesterday, within hours of the school defying orders from the Ministry of Education and welcoming 17 senior students back for term two with a powhiri.

The school had been ordered to shut its senior unit, which teaches Year 11-13 students via a satellite arrangement with Kia Aroha College in Auckland.

About 70 parents and community members turned out to a meeting at the school last night, originally called to seek their views on the senior unit's future. Instead, they were told about the appointment of commissioner Mike Eru, now in charge of the 280-pupil school.

Ex-chairman Mate Palmer said community members were not happy with the commissioner coming in.

"I even had one kaumatua go so far as to say that he will block the entrance to Moerewa School and not allow the commissioner to come into the school grounds,'' he said.

However, by the time the commissioner arrived at about 2.30pm today all was quiet at the school and the two parents who had been there, one of whom is a kaumatua, had gone home.

Mr Eru was asked by a reporter if he would sack the principal, and replied, "Why would I do that?''

He refused to answer other questions and asked the media to leave.

Mr Eru was then greeted by principal Keri Milne-Ihimaera who gave him a hongi and took him into her office.

Parents of senior students had earlier been offered financial assistance by the ministry to move their children to other schools. None had accepted the offer yesterday.

The school was told late last term to disband its senior unit, which the ministry says has never been legal, and send the students elsewhere. However, orders to shut the unit go back to last year, with the school's then refusal to implement National Standards cited as one of the reasons.

Parent Olive Brown said the ministry's offer of financial help for switching schools was "frustrating''.

"It's rather annoying to see them say `we will offer your student teaching support somewhere else but not here'. That doesn't sit well.''

Ms Brown said her confidence in the school had not been dented by revelations from the ministry and NZQA, which showed work had been copied from Wikipedia, exemplars were not altered and some work was done by other students.

She said the ministry was not telling the real story.

"We believe in a kaupapa that our school has and I support it as a parent. I'm not going to change my stance because of a group of individuals that want to put out this stuff,'' she said.

Ms Milne-Ihimaera said NZQA would find concerns at any school audited as stringently as Moerewa was.

Before the board's sacking yesterday she said the school was exploring other options for senior students.

"We also want to send a strong message that this isn't over. While we might be forced to send some students somewhere else and we have to bite the bullet, and accept that, we'll continue to try whatever it takes to realise the community's vision for our school, which is a Year 1-13 campus.''

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