Catholic education’s CEO – law change may be needed

The chief executive officer of New Zealand’s Catholic Education Office is predicting the start of next term could see pupils testing the limits of uniform and appearance rules.

Brother Patrick Lynch said the recent court decision had ramifications for all schools when it came to student grooming.

He said a law change may be needed to ensure schools retained the ability to set rules and govern behaviour.

On Friday a High Court Judge ruled that the suspension of Lucan Battison from St John’s college in Hasting was unlawful because suspension should be used only for serious matters.

Justice Collins also found the college’s hair rule was unlawful because it was open to interpretation.

On Friday St. John’s principal Paul Melloy said: “Naturally we are disappointed of the decision made in Wellington today.”

“The Board of Trustees are taking time to consider the judgment made by Justice Collins in terms of its impact, both on our school and on other schools.”

Secondary Principals’ Association president Tom Parsons said schools now faced the prospect of “lawyering up” simply to ensure rules that might already be clear to students and parents passed the legal test set by the High Court.

School Trustees’ Association president Lorraine Kerr said although the ruling set a precedent, she hoped common sense would prevail.

She said other schools may need to look over their own rules as a result of the judgement, to ensure the intent of their policy is clear.

Principals’ Federation president Philip Harding says principals shouldn’t expect a rush of lawyers arguing against their rules.

However, he says they do need to take care in how they apply their rules.

Mt Albert Grammar headmaster Dale Burden said Lucan Battison’s parents should have supported the school’s judgment. “It should never have gone to court … You back the school, you don’t back your belly-aching teenager on everything.

“These judges don’t make it easy for schools, they really don’t.”

Nigel Latta, a clinical psychologist and parenting expert , says,”There are implications for the rest of us, for our schools, for our kids now.”

“It’s not a small point that now schools will have to spend money on lawyers to vet rules.”

“What it means for all of us is schools will be spending money on lawyers when they could be spending that money on textbooks or technology or professional development – that is where that money should go.”

Latta said while he supported young people pushing limits, he didn’t support the argument ending up in court.

Legal expert Dr Bill Hodge said the costs associated with having school rules scrutinised and drafted by lawyers would run into thousands of dollars.

Hodge said the ruling meant that amateur administrators serving on boards of trustees were effectively being held to the standard of professional law makers.

The Battison family’s lawyer, Jol Bates, said when asked if he thought the college would appeal against the decision, “The judgment makes it very hard for the school to appeal.”


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