Salisbury School hopes a change in Education Minister might result in a change of heart in closing the special school in Richmond.
Outgoing Education Minister Hekia Parata has been locked in a battle with the school since 2012 when she made the decision to close it. That resulted in a High Court case which the school, the country’s only single-sex residential school for girls with intellectual disabilities, ultimately won.
Parata announced last June that she had initiated consultation over the school’s future. The then proposed date for the school’s closure was January 27. However, Parata has since delayed the interim decision. She is now moving on from politics.
However, Parata did tell the school that it would remain open until at least the end of the year.
New minister Nikki Kaye will now be tasked with the final decision on Salisbury.
The school’s board of trustees chairman John Kane said the board regretted Parata’s further deferment of the decision but welcomed the opportunity to engage with a new minister.
He looked forward to having a “fact-based conversation” with Kaye about the demand for enrolment at Salisbury.
He said the low enrolment figures, which fell from 77 in 2009 to 10 in 2017, could be blamed on the ministry making it difficult for students to gain entry.
A spokesperson for Kaye said she did not officially take over the portfolio until next week and it would be premature to comment on any decision regarding the school.
Kane has said that the school would again go to court if the ministry decided to close it.
The board has also lodged a complaint to the Human Rights Commission in early April following advice that the Ministry of Education’s Intensive Wraparound Service (IWS) policies and enrolment process into Salisbury were discriminatory.
The school 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.
“As always, the Salisbury School board is determined to focus on constructive ways forward and we’re keen to present to Minister Kaye the Salisbury Solution,” Kane said. “It had been presented to Parata but in our view was discounted without the proper consideration it deserved.”
New Zealand First education spokesperson Tracey Martin said Parata was “passing the buck” in giving Kaye the decision about the school’s closure.
“This leaves the students, families and staff at the school in Richmond, Nelson, in limbo yet again. The girls at Salisbury deserve better.”
Nelson Green Party candidate Matt Lawrey said he was surprised Parata had not been able to make a decision about Salisbury before leaving Parliament, given the overwhelming evidence in submissions and petitions about the importance of keeping the school open.