1 Jul 2015

Teen, school at odds over class speech

6:04 pm on 1 July 2015

A Hawke's Bay teenager says she was denied an education when she was told to stay home after making a class speech criticising teachers.

Anela Pritchard reading a portion of her speech to media

Anela Pritchard and her father, Andrew, gave a news conference this afternoon in their backyard in Hawke's Bay. Here, she reads out part of her speech. Photo: RNZ / Peter Fowler

Anela Pritchard, 15, said Napier Girls' High School told her not to return after her speech last Wednesday.

She said the school had asked students to write a persuasive speech on something they had strong opinions about.

In her speech, which she posted on Facebook on Monday, she questioned the amount of essays, worksheets and what she called endless study.

Students should instead be learning about how to pay taxes and how to apply for jobs, and the school system was screwed up, her speech said.

"After I presented my speech my teacher left the class looking rather sad. The next day I came home from school to my father telling me that I was suspended for my speech (he didn't even know anything about it)," she said on Facebook.

"After hearing this news, rather than regretting what I had done, I was more proud. Proud that someone had heard my voice. But also I am angry. I thought New Zealand was a country with freedom of speech?"

Anela Pritchard's father, Andrew, said he fully supported his daughter's right to free speech.

Anela Pritchard's father, Andrew, said he fully supported his daughter's right to free speech. Photo: RNZ / Peter Fowler

Napier Girls' High School denied in a media statement today that Ms Pritchard was suspended or stood-down.

It said the principal met with the student, her father and her sister yesterday - the earliest a meeting could be arranged.

"The student delivered a speech that was provocative. She emailed a copy of her speech to a number of teachers causing upset," the school said.

"Colleagues and students in the wider school were shocked and upset.

"The principal immediately on hearing about this, arranged a meeting with the student and her father to better understand the student's thinking and objectives about the speech and to hear her ideas."

It said the matter was resolved and the student was welcome back at school today.

'Suspension without the title'

Ms Pritchard said, while the school did not use the exact words suspended or stood-down, it was "suspension without the title" because she was still told to stay away.

She said her father was told she was not welcome until a meeting with the principal was organised.

"I was getting a bit angry about the whole situation because it was denying me an education because of this and I thought it was quite unreasonable," she told Checkpoint.

She said her dean did not make time for a meeting and was only happy to have one after the speech was made public.

Ms Pritchard's father, Andrew, said today he fully supported his daughter's right to free speech and did not believe she should have been kept away from school.

"She's been stood down, or suspended but not suspended - what the school says - for no reason whatsoever. Just speaking the truth. That's all she's done. She's not guilty of anything."

Ms Pritchard said she was not comfortable returning to Napier Girls' High School.

"I feel like now, after this has all happened, a lot of the teachers and a lot of the students don't really like me at the moment, and I don't really feel comfortable going back to school."

She is moving to Australia next week.