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Protest rally planned over Canterbury school closures

Published: 7:49AM Sunday September 16, 2012 Source: Fairfax

Upset parents are mobilising against sweeping education reforms announced for Canterbury, with a protest rally planned for Wednesday.

A plan announced last week outlines grouping all 214 schools in the region into 41 learning community "clusters", with 13 schools marked for closure, 18 likely to merge, and seven to relocate.

Education Minister Hekia Parata said the overhaul was a consequence of the earthquakes, which saw 4500 students leave the district, and schools damaged.

But the announcement sparked a public outcry from principals and parents, with residents venting via social media.

"Such an appalling way to treat the people of Christchurch. It's as though the Government went out of its way to cause as much distress as possible," Les McNamara wrote on Facebook.

Noeleen Kino posted: "It's like Parliament sent a bomb down to Christchurch to knock them deeper into the bog."

A protest has been organised through social networking and is due to be held on Wednesday at 5.30pm at the Bridge of Remembrance.

Labour earthquake recovery spokeswoman Lianne Dalziel said the Government appeared to be taking a "very opportunistic" approach.

"There is a bigger picture here, which is the idea that perhaps under the cover of the earthquake they can trial things that they can't do elsewhere."

Educational Institute president Ian Leckie said some leaders were concerned about how the changes fitted with the national education agenda.

"Is this what could be rolled out over the rest of the country? If you were in a cost-saving mode, the answer is yes."

Parata has rejected claims the scheme is a pilot, but said any "innovation" arising from the changes could be used over the rest of the country. She also said there had been "challenges" before the quakes.

"We now have over-capacity. Before the quakes there were empty classrooms."

Schools affected by the proposal criticised the way the announcement was handled. Linwood Intermediate principal Lee Walker said some staff found out about the school's closure second-hand.

"I had staff receiving texts from relatives, saying they had heard the school was closing, while I was still at the announcement. I've been teaching 40 years, and never had anything as bad as this."