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Chrischurch protest demands end to school closures

Published: 7:02AM Saturday September 22, 2012 Source: ONE News

More than 2000 people came out in Christchurch today to protest against planned school closures.

They are fighting a Government proposal announced last week to close 13 schools and merge 18 into nine and relocate a further seven in the wider Christchurch area.

Teachers, parents and students have reacted angrily to the proposal and want the Government to back down on the education overhaul.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has said the proposals are still in the consultation phase, but that population movements following the city's earthquake meant changes were necessary.

Many of the people who came out to Hagley Park this afternoon said the city's children had been through enough changes already and did not need more imposed on them.

"What children need and deserve right now is a sense of normality, not to be used as Guinea Pigs in a Government school-reform experiment," said Nicki Penny, of the New Zealand Educational Institute and an intermediate school teacher.

ONE News reporter Lorelei Mason says today's rally was one of the largest among at least a dozen high-profile protests since the first earthquake struck Christchurch two years ago.

She says it is a sign of the frustration and powerlessness that residents feel towards authorities.

The protest followed a rally of close to 1000 people at the Bridge of Remembrance on Wednesday.

Public law expert Mai Chen said schools have a legal right to have their say during the consultation period.

"The officials need to make sure that they are not showing signs of predetermination, i.e. starting to make moves towards closing or merging until the consultation period is finished."

'Uncertainty and stress'

Health and education leaders are concerned about the mental health effects on children with the planned education shake-up.

Acting principal of Yaldhurst Model School Ann-Marie Garden said children were already "upset and stressed out".

"It's heartbreaking to see and it will only get worse," she said.

Children had been through "two years of uncertainty and stress" and were now faced with losing their school, she said.

Christchurch psychologist Guy Eaden, of PsychSolutions, said the impact of the education shake-up would be "massive".

"Since the earthquakes, schools have been crucial to community recovery and we can't predict how children of different ages will react, but anxiety and more behavioural issues are definite potentials," he said.

The deputy pro-vice-chancellor at Canterbury University's College of Education, Lindsey Conner, said the mental health impact of the quakes was already being felt, but the Government's announcement would exacerbate problems.

"Things will shift from being a physical uncertainty [since the quakes] to more of a psychological uncertainty with the schools announcement, and parents will have to bear in mind that their anxiety is transferred to children," she said.

Conner said children may find it harder to maintain friendships.

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) member Chris Mene said he felt "disappointed and disengaged" with the lack of involvement the health board and community boards had over the plans for schools. Schools would "bear the burden" of the impact on children, he said.

The Education Minister said people were free to express their views, "but I hope we will quickly get to the point of looking at the information... and having proposals from communities which reflect the interests of the wider communities".

- with Fairfax