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Bill will improve opportunities for all young New Zealanders

Hon Hekia Parata
Minister of Education

16 April 2013

Bill will improve opportunities for all young New Zealanders

Education Minister Hekia Parata has welcomed the Select Committee report back on the Education Amendment Bill, saying that it will provide a stronger foundation to raise the educational achievement of all young New Zealanders.

Ms Parata says the Education and Science Committee has recommended very useful amendments that will benefit both schools and students.

“The Bill provides a clear framework to support teachers and principals to make sure their schools provide a safe and effective learning environment at all times.”

Ms Parata says the Bill sets out what forms of search, surrender and retention are appropriate, making sure the rights of both schools and students are balanced.

“Until now, teachers have had to handle these situations without the backing of the law.

“Under the changes, teachers or authorised staff can require a student to hand over any item, including electronic devices, where it’s likely to endanger the safety of any person or detrimentally affect the learning environment.

“The amendments help to clarify powers for teachers and authorised staff to search students where it is necessary to provide a safe learning environment, while setting out clear safeguards to ensure students’ privacy and dignity.

“Teachers have long asked for this clarity and support. The Bill is intended to strengthen the ability of teachers to deal with the situations they increasingly face in the classroom.

Ms Parata says the Government will consult with the education sector to develop rules and clear practical guidelines before the search, surrender and retention provisions of the Bill comes into force on 1 January 2014.

In addition, the Select Committee has strengthened provisions for Partnership Schools/ Kura Hourua, which will be subject to the Ombudsman’s scrutiny in relation to suspensions, expulsions, stand-downs and exclusions.

“It is important parents have some form of recourse if they are unhappy with decisions made by Partnership Schools in these areas.

“The Bill has been thoroughly examined and I think the proposed changes have improved it. The changes demonstrate the Committee has listened to the views of those who submitted and acted on them.

“The improvements to this Bill will help us to progress our aim that five out of five New Zealand students achieve their full potential.”

Education Amendment Bill: Search, Surrender and Retention
Under the National Administrative Guidelines, school boards are responsible for fostering student achievement, and providing a safe physical and emotional environment.

In 2011, the Ministry of Education published guidelines for search and seizure in schools relating to safety concerns. Subsequently, schools have raised further concerns with the Ministry about the lack of clarity regarding their powers of search and seizure in the absence of clear legislative authority.

The Education Amendment Bill creates appropriate legal powers of search, surrender and retention which can be used in the schooling context. In using the powers, a search or seizure undertaken by a teacher would be more likely to be considered reasonable, and therefore compliant with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 (NZBORA).

The objectives are to:

• provide schools with search, surrender and retention powers which contribute toward learning environments that are both safe and conducive to positive student achievement

• balance the needs of teachers to effectively manage their students and provide safe learning environments, with the rights of students to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

• prohibit methods of search, surrender and retention that are considered to be overly intrusive and invasive, and which are either inappropriate for the effective management of students, or unnecessary for ensuring student safety.

The Education and Science Committee, by majority, recommended changes to the Bill, in response to concerns expressed by submitters from the education sector. The changes strengthen the regime by providing schools with a wider range of powers, while also specifying measures designed to safeguard the rights of students.

Under the Bill as reported back:

• A teacher or authorised staff member (eg. a school guidance counsellor) will be able to require a student to hand over any item, including an electronic device, which is likely to endanger the safety of any person or detrimentally affect the learning environment

• A teacher or authorised staff member will be able to confiscate items for a reasonable period, and either return or dispose of them (as appropriate)

• Where a student refuses to hand over a harmful item which is concealed in clothing, or a bag or other container, the teacher or authorised staff member can require the student to:
o remove their outer clothing, or any head covering, gloves, footwear, and socks for searching
o surrender the bag or container for searching

A search of these items must be carried out with decency and sensitivity, and in a manner that affords the student the greatest degree of privacy and dignity consistent with the purpose of the search. Unless impracticable, the search must:

o be carried out by a teacher or authorised staff member who is of the same sex as the student

o be carried out in the presence of the student and another teacher or authorised staff member who is of the same sex as the student

o not be carried out in the view of any other person

• Where a student refuses to comply with a teacher’s instruction, the teacher or authorised staff member will be able to take any disciplinary steps, or steps to manage the student’s behaviour, as the teacher considers reasonable

• Contractors will not be able to exercise any of the permitted powers, or search a student. However, schools will be able to engage contractors to conduct searches of school property through the use of dogs

• A teacher or authorised staff member will be able to encourage students to participate in a voluntary drug treatment programme that involves testing of bodily samples

• A teacher or an authorised staff member will be prohibited from:
o physically searching a student
o using physical force against a student
o requiring a student to provide a bodily sample
o having a dog present for the purpose of exercising a permitted search or seizure power

The Secretary for Education will be required to issue rules and guidelines for the sector, covering the practical aspects of the new regime. These will be developed in consultation with the education sector and issued at the same time as the relevant provisions in the Bill come into force (1 January 2014).

Education Amendment Bill: Partnership Schools

Partnership Schools/Kura Hourua bring together the education, business and community sectors to provide new opportunities for students to succeed in education.

They are targeted at lifting achievement in low decile areas and disadvantaged communities that have been underserved by the education system.

The Education and Science Committee recommended that an independent review process for managing complaints should be set out in the contract.

The committee also recommended that the Ombudsmen should have a complaints jurisdiction, covering sponsors’ decisions relating to stand-downs, suspensions, exclusions and expulsions.

ENDS

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