By Simon Collins
Students who are suspended or expelled from school will soon have rights to “review” by a regional panel – but it is unclear whether the panel will be able to overturn a school board’s decision.
School Trustees Association president Lorraine Kerr says her association will meet this weekend to finalise a pilot of the proposed review process in a few regions.
The pilot scheme has been developed with the Human Rights Commission and Children’s Commissioner Judge Andrew Becroft and will give families a pathway to review the substance of school board decisions for the first time since schools became self-governing in 1989.
“This is about giving the students some rights,” Kerr said.
But she said no decisions had yet been made about whether the review panels would have powers to overturn board decisions.
“There is still quite a bit of work to do around the criteria of what do we want these people to do, rather than just come in and possibly slam-dunk the board,” she said.
Kerr wants the pilots to start in regions where students are most likely to be kicked out. Last year students were most likely to be stood down for up to five days, or excluded from schools under age 16, in Manawatū-Whanganui, and most likely to be formally suspended, or expelled aged 16 or over, in Northland.
The association’s Northland region and its Central-West region, which includes Whanganui and Manawatū, are among several that have “put their hands up” for the pilot.
Kerr said there would probably be about three people on each regional panel, but the association was still debating how to appoint them.
“Do we go to our board members who have been on a board for a little time in that area, or do we go to police, or do we go to even judges in those areas?” she said.
She wants to “give it a go” in several regions before approaching the Government about any possible law change to empower review panels to overturn board decisions.
The new pilots come after the Ministry of Education launched a separate pilot projectproviding ministry facilitators, and then a right to mediation if a school consents, for disputes between families and schools over students needing extra learning support in Auckland, Manawatū-Whanganui and Nelson-Marlborough-West Coast.
Ministry deputy secretary Katrina Casey said one case had been “successfully resolved using facilitation” since the process was launched in Auckland in May.
“However we are aware of two cases in Auckland where parents wanted to use the process but the schools did not feel that the cases fitted within the dispute resolution process criteria,” she said.
A committee reviewing Tomorrow’s Schools is also looking at whether to revive a parent advocacy service, as proposed in the original Tomorrow’s Schools reform in 1989, and/or a tribunal to hear appeals against school board decisions.
Labour’s election policy last year promised: “Labour will establish an independent disputes resolution tribunal to hear appeals against decisions taken by schools and early childhood services.”