Hot off the press!
The determination of Phillipstown Schools 'take it to man' court case against the Ministry and Minister of Educations decision to close the school and merge it with Woolston has been published.
Recently the school filed a judicial review in the Christchurch High Court, where the school sought to get a declaration saying that the decision to merge the school with Woolston from the beginning of 2014 was illegal and in breach of the Education Act.
The good news is that the court has found in its favour and ruled that the consultation process was both flawed and illegal.
The following is my thinking on this.
I am personally having a little internal happy dance for the Principal, his staff, the children they advocate for and the community and its supporters. I - more than most - understand the heartache, stress and hours that goes into leading such a huge process. While our story did not have a happy ending and the judge did not rule in our favour - I feel now that the fact we took such a big step has in its own small way, paved the way for other schools to stand up for what is right and best for its community.
I appreciate that there are those out in the public that think the Minister and the Ministry are the gate keepers of all decisions surrounding education, and if they think a community should close or merge then they must be right.
I don't quite see it from the same perspective. And, neither did Philipstown and its Board of Trustees and Community. Good for them for taking their role as advocates for their community and the children they serve so seriously, with passion and a determination to see justice served.
Hard as it is to believe, they (the Ministry of Education and the Government) are not always right or cognisant of all the facts - and the education of a student is not merely about numbers. Our system in New Zealand is based on self governance and making decisions for our communities based on the needs of our communities. In this case, the schools Board and its community were better placed to understand the needs of their students and they stood up for the right to have this heard. A flawed consultation process that is predetermined does not give a community the chance to make their case. The Court has ruled in favour of the school, validating the injustice of the process and thereby giving them a chance to state their case without prejudice.
So now, the tricky wonderings.
The cynic in me says they have won the battle but the war is far from over. This ruling is a temporary stay of execution. What is unclear is where to next. How much time they will have to redo the consultation, and if it will result in the same decision (which I suspect under the current Government will be the same but given the Minister has lost two battles this year on closures there remains hope). These are battles they are still to face. I wonder also, what does this mean for other school communities in Christchurch facing similar battles? I wonder if they too have had a flawed process and if they have the courage and fortitude needed to take the next step, or will it be a matter of Goliath winning over David?
If I was to leave any lasting impressions on the reader, I would hope it would be this. Please understand how difficult this process is on any community.
It can be easy sitting at home in our armchairs making comments like, 'well its saves money to merge', 'everyone has to make sacrifices because of the earthquake', or 'they should just do as they are told, how hard can it be really, they are only kids?'.
School closures are fraught with uncertainty and pitfalls. It is a stressful, emotional process, that even when self selected by a schools community, will not leave the participants unscathed.
To then take the Government (which is essentially what you do - Crown Law is by no means a minor player!) to court - well, that is not an easy decision. It is expensive - not just in terms of costs financially, but emotionally. A community lives in limbo, waiting, worried, unsure of their future. Children cry, parents stress. Teachers are fearful, both for the future of the students they have invested much effort and time into, and of their future - jobs are on the line and nothing is certain for anyone.
My heart aches for all of those involved in this process but most of all I feel for the Principal. It is his role to lead the community, to be a spokesperson, and to front to the media. He will take all the force of the emotions of the community, all the knives that may be thrown, and he will be the invisible shield that protects his community. Let me tell you now - this is not easy. People make judgements - many incorrect - and when this is finally over - one way or another - it will leave its mark.
I salute his courage and the way he has lead his community. He is an unsung hero - irrespective of what side of the debate you find yourself on. I also salute his family - the toll this will be taking on them is unseen and will cut more deeply than you could ever envisage.
Finally - let me say well done Phillipstown. You deserve your time in the sun and I hope you get to shine brightly. For the next stage of your journey - Kia Kaha!!!