Cantabrians protest school closures

About 200 parents, grandparents, students, teachers and principals packed a Christchurch school gym last night protest the Government's plan to close the school and others across the region.

Education Minister Hekia Parata has started three weeks of consultation with 37 Canterbury schools facing uncertain futures as the Government seeks to close or merge a number of schools to combat dwindling rolls in the wake of the earthquakes.

Chisnallwood Intermediate School, the South Island's second largest intermediate school, had been part of the eastern community for almost 50 years and prided itself on providing excellent education, principal Richard Paton said.

Everyone was shocked at the short length of time given to put together a proposal to keep it open, in the busiest term of the year, including Chisnallwood teacher Cam Gordon who spoke on behalf of staff.

"If living in earthquake-damaged homes wasn't enough, now you have us with this as well. It feels like the Government doesn't care about us. It feels like they don't care about east Christchurch. I am not going to send my daughter to a school ... that goes from Year 0 to 13. I want her to have the best possible education she can get. She won't get that in a year 0 to 13 school," he said.

Year 7 student Rod Ching said the school's closure would have a devastating impact on his two younger brothers because they wouldn't be offered the same opportunities.

"When I tell my brothers about the awesome things we do here at school, they think 'wow, I can't wait to do something like that and be part of a caring school'. I think tonight's meeting was successful because it got our point across. I just want my brothers to get the same experience and opportunities that I have have been given. This is such a great school," he said.

Mr Paton said he was overwhelmed by the turnout at the meeting.

"We can solve this problem in a really creative and productive manner. This has been a really spirited meeting. The school needs to stay in this community for the next 50 years," he said.

"People in this community want to be heard and listened to. There is a wonderful opportunity to do something that is educationally and economically sound and the current proposal is not going to tick all those boxes."

The school, with a roll of more than 700 students has more than 300 enrolments for next year.

Last night's meeting followed a 'Listen to Christchurch' march through the city yesterday afternoon.

NZEI area council chairwoman Sandra Spekreijse said there was a strong turnout of more than 400 people, including representation from a number of schools and centres facing closures or mergers.

"We had a clear voice right from the early childhood through to primary and the wider community. We want the ministry to give us proper consultation and a reasonable time frame to sort everything out. The time frames they have given to make any decisions are too short," she said.

"Schools who made site-sharing work after the earthquakes did so because they had no choice but to. It was a short-term fix. The staff, parents and students bent over backwards to make that happen. We want our children to go to local schools and centres. Our schools are the stability of our community and were the hub after the earthquakes," she said.

The protesters pledged to ask Prime Minister John Key to step in over the Government's "flawed plan" for the future of education in Christchurch.

"We hope they will listen. If you take away the schools you take away part of the communities' identity. We are going to keep going with this pledge and we will be planning more action before December 1," Ms Spekreijse said.

Education Minister Hekia Parata was invited to the march and the meeting but did not attend due to prior commitments.

- Samantha McPherson of The Star

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