11 Sep 2015

Private school 'refused to cooperate'

1:33 pm on 11 September 2015

Police say the board of a private Auckland school which is being shut down over fears for student safety refused to co-operate with their investigation.

Pacific Christian School at Mangere Bridge, Auckland.

Pacific Christian School at Mangere Bridge, Auckland. Photo: Radio NZ

The ministry has suspended the Pacific Christian School's registration from the start of next term, the first time it has ever taken such a step with a private school.

It said it had closed the school because its 70 students were deemed to be at risk of harm. The ministry said it had serious concerns for the children's welfare, and had not taken the decision lightly.

A ministry spokesperson said four teachers had been formally warned after an investigation by police and social workers into allegations that physical discipline was used.

The spokesperson said the ministry had met many times with the school leaders but had been unable to get any assurances about student safety.

The school has been given the chance to improve conditions, or its registration will be permanently cancelled.

School board 'refused to co-operate'

The year 1-8 school, which has a roll of 70 students, came under scrutiny in June last year when an 11-year-old stabbed another child with a pair of scissors.

Police and Child, Youth and Family were called in to the Mangere Bridge school after the attack, and police said the child was now in the care of Child, Youth and Family.

A month later police received a report alleging physical discipline had been used by some teachers, but the school's board refused to co-operate with their investigation.

Police have worked closely with the Education Ministry and Child Youth and Family in the wider investigation.

Pacific Christian School at Mangere Bridge, Auckland.

Police at Pacific Christian School in the wake of last year's stabbing. Photo: RNZ / Nicole Pryor

They say they're disappointed at the lack of co-operation by the school board, with trustees declining two requests for assistance.

Five children were interviewed, and police said they had made allegations of physical discipline being used by four teachers.

They said after taking a range of factors into account, including the wishes of the children and their families, they formally warned all four teachers last month.

Police have told the Education Council about their investigation.

Children will suffer - GP

But Mangere GP Dr Sitaleki Finau said the ministry had moved to kill the school, rather than fix its problems.

Dr Sitaleki Finau told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon the Ministry of Education had overreacted and the students would be badly affected by the suspension.

"The impact on the children is phenomenal because now they have to go and look for a new school, and also they're going to be carrying this baggage with them, that their church and their school are no good.

"The very fundamentals of the children are being challenged."

Dr Finau said it was not the worst school of its type, and he was beginning to think the ministry was picking on it because it was a Christian school.

Meanwhile, Labour MP Su'a William Sio has been trying to mediate between the school and the authorities, and was due to meet with the principal and board later today.

He told Nine to Noon the sad outcome was the loss of the school's special character, as it was the only one he know of that provided Tongan bilingual teaching.

"Parents in my community are fighting to maintain language and culture and I don't know whether any other school can provide that special character that this school has provided, irrespective of the other issues that the school has to deal with."

Mr Sio said there was a clash of beliefs between the requirements of the law and the ministry, and the views of the school's leadership, over things including physical discipline.

A Radio New Zealand reporter outside the school this morning found neither teachers nor parents had any idea about the suspension when they turned up.

The head of the Tongan Advisory Council, Melino Maka, worked with the school after last year's stabbing incident.

Mr Maka said it was lucky the school had only had its registration suspended, as any further action would have been devastating.

He said it was up to parents to think about whether they wanted to send children to the Pacific Christian School in the last two weeks it remained open.

"I think that they need to think about the future of the children because at the end of the day that is what is most important for all of us - the wellbeing and the safeguarding of the children."

The suspension starts from 25 September and the students will all be re-enrolled in other schools for the start of Term 4 in October.

The Education Review Office last checked on the Pacific Christian School, which has mostly Tongan students, in August 2012.