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Special needs school to fight closure

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 16/06/2016

A Nelson-based residential school for high needs girls is blaming the Ministry of Education for running down its roll to the point where it faces the axe.

Salisbury School, in Richmond, staved off closure in 2012 with a legal challenge against Education Minister Hekia Parata, but is again under threat with its roll now down from about 80 to nine girls.

The school caters for Year 3 to 11 students who have complex needs.

Ms Parata wants the school to close in January next year, citing the high per student cost - $214,909 for each girl.

Ms Parata said the roll has dropped because of the success of the ministry's Intensive Wraparound Service, which provides intensive, localised support for special needs students.

Salisbury board of trustees chairman John Kane says the ministry's process has run down the roll.

The ministry had created the situation but there was a case for a residential service such as Salisbury, he told RNZ.

"They [the ministry] have a policy which is very narrow in its focus ... to have all students in their local schools. Of course for the great majority of students this works very well.

"But there is a minority of students that it is not suitable for, and it's patently obvious when you start looking at the cases."

The school's board planned to "respond vigorously" to the closure proposal and was already receiving support, Mr Kane said.

The Public Services Association says consultation promises are empty and the school's closure is a foregone conclusion.

It represents about 20 employees at the school and says they will all lose their jobs.

"This news is a disaster for the pupils of Salisbury School, their families and the community it serves," said PSA national secretary Erin Polaczuk.

In 2012, the High Court's Justice Robert Dobson said the government couldn't close Salisbury and enrol the girls in Christchurch's all-boy Halswell School.

It had disregarded the greater risk of sexual or physical abuse the girls might face, he said.

Meanwhile, National's Nelson MP Nick Smith, says the school can't continue like it is.

Forty-two staff, $2 million a year and the use of a prime eight-hectare site couldn't be justified for just nine pupils, he told Fairfax Media.

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