The Government has been given a fail mark for its handling of a $1 billion education shake-up announcement for post-earthquake Christchurch today, which proposed closing 13 schools and merging 18 more.
Parents and teachers started panicking this afternoon after a national news organisation broke an embargo to claim Shirley Boys' was merging with Christchurch Boys' High and Avonside Girls' would join Christchurch Girls' High.
What the announcement, from Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee and Education Minister Hekia Parata, failed to say was that mergers were only one of a number of proposals which would be considered for the schools.
The Government had to backtrack and release a clarification and apologise "if any information made available today was unclear regarding Christchurch high schools''.
It is the second high-profile blunder in as many days for Mr Brownlee, who yesterday was forced to apologise for calling some quake-hit homeowners "carpers and moaners''.
Shirley Boys High principal John Laurenson was "bewildered'' at the way the major announcement was handled, adding that Mr Brownlee had "offended a lot of people this week''.
The principal was scrambling into damage control to reassure teachers, staff and parents over the future of the quake-affected school.
"It's been a long day, and it'll be an even longer night,'' he said.
"We've got 300 Year 8s enrolled for 2013 and we've already taken at least a dozen phone calls from parents asking why they are bothering if we're going to close.
"For ever 25 students we lose, we lose a teacher, so thanks very much (education) ministry.''
He said it was a classic example of misinformation devised by "a media person totally removed from reality up in Wellington''.
Diane Cooke 53, went to pick up her 15-year old son Brayden in a state of shock, in the belief her son's school was closing.
"He loves it here and is doing very well - he doesn't need any upheavals. To move him now would be heartbreaking.
"I'm very annoyed over how this has been handled. The principals and parents should be told before anybody else. I shouldn't have to find out online.
"It's another blow for Christchurch.''
But then her son came out of school, to tell her: "But Mum, the school just told us it's definitely not going to happen.''
Christchurch Boys High headmaster Trevor McIntyre said the "unnecessary confusion'' was a result of the education ministry failing to clarify all the options.
"They are only proposals and a merger would be the least likely one,'' he stressed.
He called an emergency staff meeting to allay their fears and ordered a statement be released to parents and old boys explaining today's announcements.
Labour Party MP Ruth Dyson called for Parata to apologise and the Green Party raised concerns that the Government was using the Christchurch earthquake to push an unpopular education policy.
In spite of the way the announcement was handled, 13 schools still face an uncertain future and face the threat of closure.
Schools being considered for the chop are: Glenmoor primary, Hammersley Park primary, Richmond, Burnham, Burnside primary, Greenpark, Kendal School, Le Bons Bay, Manning Intermediate, Duvachelle, Okains Bay, Linwood Intermediate, and Branston Intermediate.
Shelley Bridger, a carer for two young children at Richmond School was saddened by the news.
"The kids love the school. It's very small and it allows them to develop good relationships with their teachers. When they go to intermediate they tend to do very well.
"They'll find it difficult being absorbed into a bigger school.''
- additional reporting Kate Shuttleworth
- APNZBy Kurt Bayer @KurtBayerAPNZ Email Kurt