Charter schools should not be exempt from OIAs - Ombudsman

By Kate Shuttleworth

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Ombudsman's office has criticised a move to exempt charter schools from scrutiny under the Official Information Act, saying the same rules should apply to all public-private bodies.

Chief Ombudsman Dame Beverley Wakem and Deputy Ombudsman Leo Donnelly have voiced their opposition to the Education Amendment Bill 2012, which would exempt charter schools from public scrutiny.

In a submission to the education and science select committee they said it could be catastrophic, and result in situations as bad, if not worse, than a sexual violence and bullying case at Hutt Valley High School.

In 2007 a gang of six teens terrorised classmates, chasing younger boys around the school, dragging them to the ground to remove their pants and violating them with a screwdriver, scissors, branches, pens, pencils and drills.

The victims' parents eventually got full information through the Ombudsmen Act 1975, three years later when it was revealed the school did not alert the victim's parents, police or Child Youth and Family, instead standing down the culprits down for several days.

"We do get a lot of complaints from parents of suspended or excluded students and we often find when they do cock up, its cocked up really badly,'' Dame Beverley said.

She said legislation enforcing the provision of a safe physical and emotional environment for students would not be possible if charter schools were excluded from the Acts and it would be impossible to meet the requirements of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

"It's a fundamental right of people to have an independent review mechanism for bad behaviour, for non adherence to administrative justice and procedural fairness in the application of policy.''

She said there had been 103 formal investigations carried out on schools over the last three years.

There were many other complaints that were dealt with and resolved directly with schools.

Mr Donnelly said the move in the legislation was unconstitutional and created a constitutional anomaly - historically state funded agencies, particularly those that operate under a statutory regime have been subject to the Ombudsmen and Official Information Acts.

Both regimes ensured that state funded agencies were accountable to the taxpayer for spending Government funds.

Under the Corrections Act 2004 private prisons were subject to the Ombudsmen and Official Information Acts, when they were subcontract to private operators.

"Under the partnership school model, the functions of schools are subcontracted to non-state sponsors who can deliver school services, with state funding, should be subject to certain constraints,'' said Dame Beverly.

"The operations of the acts have rarely, if ever brought anything to its knees - nobody died.''

Charter schools in the UK and the US both come under equivalent freedom of information legislation.

- NZ Herald

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