The Public Service Association says a decision by the Ministry of Education to cut back on a proposal to close down residential special schools is a hollow victory.
The Ministry had proposed to close down all four of the country’s residential special schools which cater for intellectually disabled children and those with serious behavioural difficulties.
After a consultation period it has decided to close two schools - McKenzie School in Christchurch and Salisbury School in Nelson - and retain Westbridge School in west Auckland and Halswell College in Christchurch.
"While it’s good that the Ministry has listened to the submissions and recognised the value of having residential care in the system, there are still two high performing schools which will have to shut their doors," says PSA delegate and Halswell College Family Support Worker Richard Chalklen.
"The impact of the closures will obviously impact heavily on students, families, staff and local communities and create a lot of uncertainty for the two remaining schools."
Many children will now be returning to their homes and local schools with the Ministry creating a new wrap-around service with implementation teams to support them in their local communities.
Richard Chalklen says "these are children with very high needs and there are some very big questions over how families can be transitioned into this new national service and whether local schools and communities can offer adequate levels of support."
"Affected staff also need some answers about their future. They don’t know whether they will continue to be attached to a school, be employed in the new service or be made redundant."
The PSA is also concerned that there will be a single board of trustees for the two schools which are remaining open and it will be appointed by the Minister.
PSA National Secretary Brenda Pilott says "these two schools are at opposite ends of the country and having the Minister appointing trustees will take away any sense of community or parent focus."
"The reprioritisation of funding also means that the new wrap-around service comes at the expense of vital current services and many families will be left in a very difficult position."
Through the notification of closure process, the Minister of Education now has 28 days to continue weighing up the decision and consider the summary of submissions.
"We would urge her to use this window to reconsider the decision," Brenda Pilott says.
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