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Minister complicit in school's cover-up job

Bill English National Education Spokesman

31 March 2004

Minister complicit in school's cover-up job

Education Minister Trevor Mallard has been complicit in attempts by the Correspondence School to conceal information from students, parents and the public, says National's Education spokesman Bill English.

Allegations the school's computers were used to download pornographic material were first raised last December, at which time the school employed a public relations firm to manage the problem.

Mr English says Mr Mallard not only approved of the school's extensive spin strategy, but his office also offered the school advice on how to keep information away from the media.

"The Minister turned down Official Information Act requests for information by denying he held information. His officials have today 'now located' that information.

"The documents show Mr Mallard was warned by the school that 'the number of cases which warrant disciplinary action is high', and that 'there is no way that the issues arising from the original complaint can be considered as anything but extremely serious'.

"It is appalling that now, four months later, we are discovering that the allegations go much deeper than the Correspondence School was first prepared to admit," Mr English says.

"Not only are there 30 cases of computer misuse currently being investigated, but the original investigation also involves physical relationships with two students."

Mr Mallard has refused to release a draft communications initiatives paper.

Draft briefing notes contain a risk assessment that says, 'the combination of computers, vulnerable pupils and potentially predatory teachers is a combustible mix'.

"Yet the school has been more concerned with protecting Mr Mallard than being open and honest.

"The school's 20,000 pupils, their parents and the public deserve more than spin and platitudes.

"Mr Mallard has had to deal with bad publicity over the school network reviews, NCEA results and the truancy service - he should know by now that honesty is the best policy," says Mr English.


Background on Correspondence School's trouble

Recent revelations show that the extent of problems at the Correspondence School is more serious than previously thought.

In January this year it was reported that a teacher had resigned from the school after a complaint about inappropriate material being stored on a computer, prompting an audit of all the school's computers.

Official Information Act requests and subsequent questioning by the National Party have revealed that:

* The teacher who sparked the initial investigation had a physical relationship with the complainant and physical contact with another student.

* The audit has resulted in a significant number of staff departures by dismissal or resignation.

* Two of those particular individuals are members of the senior management team and three hold senior positions as regional supervisors.

* Up to 30 staff are being investigated as a result of the audit.

* The number of staff are facing disciplinary action is high.

* At least four cases relating to inappropriate computer usage at the school have been referred to the Teacher's Council.

By the assessment of both E-Crime (the forensic IT specialists in charge of the audit) and the school show the situation is "highly unusual".


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