Kurt Bayer

Kurt Bayer is an APNZ reporter based in Christchurch.

Hundreds rally against school closures

"She has to go," said Sarah Blake, waving a placard outside the Ministry of Education offices in Christchurch.

Her feelings on Education Minister Hekia Parata - prompted by the closure of her two children's Central New Brighton School - were shared by about 1500 others who joined the public rally against school closures today.

They were protesting against proposals announced yesterday to close 12 schools and merge six in the greater Christchurch area. Seven will shut by next January.

Hundreds of teachers declared a motion of no confidence in Ms Parata at a rally inside a packed CBS Canterbury Arena after the school bell this afternoon.

The teachers, joined by parents and pupils, then marched on the local Ministry of Education office to deliver the message. Trains were halted during the vocal 500m march where protesters waved placards and chanted, "Hek no, she must go", and "Hekia Parata, hear our voice, we want options, we want choice".

Emotions ran high as NZEI president Judith Nowotarski and John Leadbetter, a teacher at Parkview school which has escaped change, were greeted by a ministry official and taken inside to hand-deliver the vote of no confidence.

The glass doors were then locked as the crowd kept chanting and called for Ms Parata to resign.

Mrs Blake said her two children, Ondreaz, 6, and new entrant, Navaeh, 5, were devastated by plans to merge with South New Brighton.

The 24-year-old mother-of-three summed up the feelings of many at the rally.

"Parata doesn't understand this," she said, looking around the crowd of people, waving banners and calling on the Government to listen.

"We've gone through so much and this is just the last straw.

"I've moved so many times because of the earthquakes, but the kids have always had their school, which is my old school, and their aunties' and uncles' old school, and now it's been taken away from us."

The motion of no confidence was put forward by local members of teaching union NZEI.

They are demanding that Ms Parata commits "to moving forward in an engagement that is credible and respectful".

Ms Nowotarski said the Government has been "deaf" to Christchurch schools' pleas.

The closures were driven by "political expenditure" rather than what was best for pupils, she said.

Southbridge School principal Peter Verstappen opened the rally by warning Ms Parata that "there's a long way to go on this journey yet", and that teachers would fight the closures.

Some are considering legal action in the form of a Judicial Review to try and keep their gates open.

Green Party education spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty attended the rally to support teachers, parents, and children who were being "dictated to".

"We're looking in vain for a consistent logic. We can't understand why small schools and intermediates can't play a vital role to play in a rebuilding Christchurch."

Education Minister Hekia Parata has denied in Parliament that she promised three Christchurch intermediate schools earmarked for closure they could stay open for two more years.

Principals at Branston, Linwood and Manning intermediates said they were assured by Ms Parata and her officials at public and personal meetings in October that they would remain open until the end of 2015.

Greens co-leader and education spokeswoman Metiria Turei asked Ms Parata in Parliament during question time if she had lied to the schools.

Ms Parata said she did not make that promise.

She rejected Manning principal Richard Chambers' claim that he was given a guarantee the school would remain open so incoming Year 7 students could finish two years, only to be told yesterday it may shut next year.

"I repeatedly made it clear that it was a proposal that we were inviting feedback," said Ms Parata.

- APNZ

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