31 Oct 2012

Special needs schools in South Island to close

11:14 pm on 31 October 2012

A girls-only special needs school set to close says vulnerable students could be at risk of abuse if they are forced to move to a co-ed school.

The Government has confirmed that Salisbury School in Nelson, along with McKenzie Residential School in Christchurch, will be closed in January 2013.

That leaves only two other residential special schools in the country - Westbridge School in Auckland and Halswell College in Christchurch, which is to become co-ed so it can take in girls from Salisbury.

Education Minister Hekia Parata announced the plan to close the schools in August this year, but only finalised the decision on Wednesday after receiving their submissions.

Helen McDonnell, chairperson for Salisbury's board of trustees, told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday that parents are devasted at the decision.

"We're talking about girls who are teenagers with intellectual difficulties who have inappropriate behaviours around boys.

"Just putting them together with teenage boys who have similar complex needs, it only is common sense to say this is not the safest approach to take."

Ms McDonnell says teachers pointed these concerns out to the Ministry of Education, but were ignored.

Hekia Parata says the ministry will work with the families of students affected as they decide whether to enrol them in a local school or transfer them to another special school.

Ms Parata told Checkpoint she is confident the schools will do everything they can to protect the girls and keep them safe.

"Our intention throughout this continuum of care is that these young people are safe. That is absolutely what the whole service is focused on, as well as meeting their complex needs of behaviour and intellectual impairment."

Ms Parata says Salisbury School and McKenzie Residential School are being closed so more services and support can be provided to more children.