Parata un­der fire over Sal­is­bury

Nelson Mail - - FRONT PAGE - CHERIE SIVIGNON

The Pub­lic Ser­vice As­so­ci­a­tion has called on Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Hekia Parata to ‘‘step up, front up and stop dodg­ing ques­tions’’ over the fu­ture of Sal­is­bury School.

Sal­is­bury is a res­i­den­tial school in Rich­mond that caters for girls from years 3 to 11 who have com­plex in­tel­lec­tual im­pair­ment.

‘‘The de­ci­sion around fu­ture of Sal­is­bury School has been over­due for months, and the am­bi­gu­ity is leav­ing par­ents, staff and stu­dents in limbo,’’ said PSA na­tional sec­re­tary Erin Po­laczuk.

Parata an­nounced last June that she had ini­ti­ated con­sul­ta­tion with the school’s board over its pos­si­ble clo­sure, which was orig­i­nally tipped for Jan­uary 27. How­ever, she has de­layed the in­terim de­ci­sion more than once and the school com­mu­nity re­mains on ten­ter­hooks.

It’s the sec­ond time the min­is­ter has raised the spec­tre of the school’s demise. She sought to close Sal­is­bury in 2012 but the board won a re­prieve by tak­ing a case to the High Court.

In 2012, the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion in­tro­duced the In­ten­sive Wra­paround Ser­vice (IWS). Stu­dents must now be ac­cepted into the IWS be­fore they are el­i­gi­ble to en­rol at Sal­is­bury. Since the IWS started, new en­rol­ments dropped from 17 in 2012 to two in 2016 and one so far this year.

Parata has said that the suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of the IWS has re­duced the de­mand for res­i­den­tial school­ing. How­ever, the school says that the IWS has led to the ‘‘man­ag­ing down’’ of en­rol­ments.

It has ar­gued that young peo­ple with autism and com­plex in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties have fallen through the spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion gap un­der the IWS, and has de­vel­oped a pro­posal called the Sal­is­bury So­lu­tion, with the aim of be­com­ing a spe­cial­ist fa­cil­ity for young peo­ple with those chal­lenges.

Po­laczuk said while the IWS was a good model for tar­get­ing some at-risk kids, ‘‘it has been un­fairly de­ployed in lim­it­ing par­ents’ ac­cess to schools like Sal­is­bury’’.

‘‘The Min­is­ter is happy to pa­rade around talk­ing up the ben­e­fits of char­ter schools but she has been ut­terly dis­en­gaged and dis­mis­sive the of Sal­is­bury’s very per­sua­sive ar­gu­ment for an en­hanced fo­cus on autis­tic and in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled stu­dents.’’

New Zealand First ed­u­ca­tion spokes­woman Tracey Martin said she be­lieved it was a de­lib­er­ate act by the min­is­ter to close Sal­is­bury.

‘‘How dare they take her to court and prove her wrong.’’

Martin said the IWS had been set up for main­stream chil­dren with spe­cial needs and had a ‘‘phi­los­o­phy to not of­fer a res­i­den­tial choice’’.

She also said the choice of a sin­gle-sex res­i­den­tial ed­u­ca­tion for girls with in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties would be re­moved if Sal­is­bury closed, just as it had been for boys when Hal­swell Res­i­den­tial Col­lege in Christchurch be­came co-ed­u­ca­tional.

‘‘Imag­ine the stink if they did that at … one of those high­fa­lutin [main­stream] boys’ schools,’’ she said. ‘‘Just be­cause you have a dis­abil­ity, how come you don’t de­serve the choice to go to a sin­gle-sex school? What about the choice for those fam­i­lies?’’ It would be easy for the next ed­u­ca­tion min­is­ter to turn back the sit­u­a­tion by al­low­ing ‘‘un­der very strict cri­te­ria’’ fam­i­lies to ap­ply for en­rol­ment di­rectly to Sal­is­bury.

Labour ed­u­ca­tion spokesman Chris Hip­kins said the school ‘‘cer­tainly wouldn’t be clos­ing’’ un­der a Labour gov­ern­ment, which would make it eas­ier for par­ents to en­rol their chil­dren.

‘‘We ab­so­lutely see a place in the sys­tem for schools like Sal­is­bury,’’ he said.

It was al­most as if there was a ‘‘vendetta’’ against Sal­is­bury with moves to ‘‘choke off the abil­ity of par­ents to en­rol their kids so they can close the school’’.

Green Party ed­u­ca­tion spokes­woman Cather­ine De­lahunty said Sal­is­bury was needed be­cause fam­i­lies could not al­ways get the sup­port for their daugh­ters they needed at their lo­cal schools.

The Greens be­lieved in in­clu­sion and would love to see no need for spe­cial schools, but the re­al­ity did not match the the­ory.

IWS was only as good as the com­mu­ni­ties in which the fam­i­lies were liv­ing and some lo­cal schools did not have the skills, re­sources and at­ti­tude to cater for these stu­dents.

‘‘It’s a bro­ken sys­tem,’’ she said. ‘‘IWS on its own will not fix it.’’

A Nel­son daugh­ter’s 42-year-long bat­tle to find her fa­ther’s World War I Gal­lipoli di­ary led her to a mu­seum in Leeds, Jes­sica Long re­ports.

Hekia Parata

Erin Po­laczuk

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