Otago principals appear to hold mixed views about whether the
Education Amendment Act 2012, which came into force on
January 1, will be helpful or more of a hindrance.
The legislation was passed in Parliament in June 2013,
amending the Education Act 1989, and now gives appropriate
school staff the power to search pupils and their bags and to
It also gives schools more protection from potential lawsuits
in relation to search and seizure, protections which
previously were not spelled out.
In the past, schools either had to take the risk they might
be acting in breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights
provision on search and seizure, or call in the police.
Much of the content of the Act was prompted by events from
New Zealand and overseas regarding antisocial behaviour in
schools, including theft, cyberbullying, violence, self-harm
and others, drug supply and use, and weapon supply and use.
The new legislation has been somewhat problematic as the Bill
of Rights Act has, to some parties, been in direct contrast
to the search and seizure provisions of the Amendment Act
Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand (Spanz)
president Tom Parsons said the resulting discussions over the
individual rights of a pupil, as opposed to the greater good
for the greatest number, had intensified.
He believed it was an age-old debate which was likely to
continue long after the present generation of educators was
Otago Secondary Principals' Association president Rick
Geerlofs was cautious about the legislation.
''The way the Act is written, it would appear that the rights
of an individual will be more important than the rights of
the greater majority.
''I think the spirit of the Act is good, but it will be
difficult for schools to implement.
''The new legislation has perhaps complicated procedures in
schools around search and seizures.
''Secondary principals are very cautious about how it will be
Otago Primary Principals' Association president Stephanie
Madden was more optimistic about the legislation.
''For primary schools, there is not likely to be a great
change in how we operate.
''However, the new legislation will provide some clarity
around what we can and can't do.
''Unfortunately, principals are often faced with challenging
behavioural situations where we have to balance the rights of
individual students with maintaining a safe environment for
our pupils and staff.''
In a bid to ensure seamless application, the Ministry of
Education has developed rules and guidelines in consultation
with the education sector, to help schools correctly conduct
searches and monitor the surrender and retention of property.
Mrs Madden said Secretary for Education Peter Hughes assured
principals at an Otago Primary Principals' Association annual
meeting late last year the ministry would be working closely
with school leaders to ensure guidelines were workable and
practical for schools.
''It will be vital that these guidelines allow principals to
take the correct course of action to keep their students and
staff safe,'' she said.
Mr Parsons agreed. He believed it would avoid further
controversy, complexity and legal risk to schools, while
achieving the desired result of clear and effective
guidelines aimed at interpreting the Act to truly assist
schools in litigious and contentious areas.