Students forced to return to half-remote learning following the discovery of toxic mould at their high school plan to protest against the "inaction" of the Ministry of Education.
In late March the discovery of "unsafe levels of mould" in a block of classrooms at Hutt Valley High School prompted further air testing of the building, while students took lessons in the hall and library.
Last week an update from Acting Principal Denise Johnson confirmed C Block – where the mould was initially found – would be demolished, and mould had been identified in multiple other parts of the building.
The update outlined that Year 12 and 13 students would learn remotely for half of the week on an alternating basis while C Block was demolished and replaced.
Hutt Valley High School head student Patrick Maslen said the students were planning to gather on the lawns of Parliament on Thursday, in protest of what they see as "inaction" from the Ministry of Education over a number of years.
"We have found toxic mould in our school and it's basically displaced 500 students because we do not have enough classrooms to provide for our 1800 students," he said.
"So basically we are protesting the system that has got us into this position – huge underfunding from the Ministry."
He said the Ministry of Education had responded well to the discovery of mould at Hutt Valley High School in March, supporting the school in remote learning through providing space for off-campus learning hubs and devices for students.
"We're not protesting against the Ministry's response to this situation, they've actually been quite good … we're protesting the system that has led to this point."
Maslen said the deteriorating condition of C Block was well-known in the school community.
"That was my form block in Year 9, I spent many years in that classroom," he said.
"It's always been very cold, very musty ... it's always been a running theme between teachers and students that C Block is not a great block to be in."
He said the discovery of unsafe levels of mould was concerning for the health and safety of the students.
"We haven't actually detected the mould situation until a month ago, and we don't know how long it's been there," he said.
"The fact that we discovered this amount of mould and leaks over a span of a few weeks shows that it's probably an underlying issue that's been around for a long time.
"It makes me quite concerned because who knows how long it's been in this classroom, particularly for people who have spent their whole high school lives in at least one of those classrooms."
Maslen also acknowledged they were not the only school facing these issues.
"Our situation represents a systemic and nationwide lack of funding in infrastructure and education," he said.
"Whilst our desire to protest is obviously caused from our experience, we are also protesting for the other hundreds of secondary schools around New Zealand facing the same issues of underfunding."
Ministry of Education acting head Education Infrastructure Service Rob Campbell said they would be attending the public meeting on Thursday to update the school community.
On Friday Campbell said they were working with the school "to understand and prioritise work that needs to be done across the campus".
"This includes demolishing C Block and identifying the best place on the school site for its replacement," he said.
They had also sought alternative accommodation options for students, with wi-fi and within a short walk of the school campus.
"We want to thank the school leadership and the Council for working with us to put urgent solutions in place."
"This has been a team effort and we are making good progress."
Hutt Valley High School acting principal Denise Johnson said the school supported the students in their protest action and it was "their way of having a voice".
Johnson said the Ministry had worked tirelessly in preparing the students for their part-return to remote learning on Monday.
"Now there's been a crisis the action from the ministry has been phenomenal, but possibly this has been a train wreck waiting to happen," she said.
"The stuff that's gone before is the conversation that's happening now to see why it got to where it has."
"Hopefully we have a bright future regarding safe and fit-for-purpose buildings."
The protest was planned for Thursday, the first remote learning day for Year 13. In an email to their peers, Year 13 school leaders asked students to wear their uniforms "for school pride (toxic mould, asbestos and all)".