Principals fear court rulings opened a legal Pandora’s box

Secondary Principals’ Association (SPANZ) executive member Patrick Walsh is concerned that injunctions and other legal threats are edging “dangerously close” to undermining the authority of the country’s principals to manage their schools.

Walsh said a legal Pandora’s box had been opened after a judge forced St Bede’s College to reinstate two teen rowers dropped from its team ahead of the Maadi Cup in March.

“We are aware of principals who contact SPANZ to say they are threatened with legal action and now they’ve got the St Bedes’ case that appears to support [a parent’s] right to seek injunctions on matters related to co-curricular activities where that hasn’t happened before.”

Walsh said courts had previously allowed principals and trustees to make decisions in schools because they accepted boards were elected representatives of the community.

The Herald on Sunday reported that parents are threatening principals with legal injunctions if their children are overlooked for sports teams and school musicals.

The increased threats have forced the Government, principals and Crown Law to work together to draw up legal advice for schools faced by parents hiring lawyers.

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said Crown Law was drafting legal submissions for school boards to use when challenged – particularly as disputes could escalate so quickly.

An Auckland lawyer specialising in education law John Hannan said the Bill of Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child were key factors in the case when Hastings student, Lucan Battison won the right to keep his long hair.

But a move away from the courts’ traditional reluctance to intervene in school matters, was also important, he said.

“Generally there’s been a willingness at the courts to look at what decisions schools are making, and to not be prepared to have the deference to the authority of the school management and principal that they may once have had,” Mr Hannan said.

He said there was a more litigious mood amongst parents and schools simply did not have the resources to deal with it.


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