Papakura High School faces accusations of racism and bullying after multiple Māori teachers leave, calls for principal and board to go

Papakura High School is facing accusations of racism and bullying tactics after three teachers from the Māori unit resigned after another teacher in the school's Māori immersion stream was let go.

Now students and the community are upset there hasn't been enough communication and are calling for the Board of Trustees and the principal to go.

There's been an outcry of support from around 100 students and community members for their Māori teachers.

After one teacher from Papakura High School's Māori unit was let go, three others including Harono Teiringa resigned in protest.

"I resigned to stand in solidarity with my colleagues and I felt culturally unsafe with what was happening."

Accusations of racism and bullying hang over the school's management team.

Former board member and parent Kim Hassan says it's been 12 weeks since the first teacher - or kaiako - was let go, and the matter still hasn't been resolved. 

"We want our kaiako back, we want them back here, they need to be back in our school teaching the rangatahi."

There are three different petitions calling for the principal and the Board of Trustees to go.  

The petitions accuse school management of silencing the Māori teachers and not engaging with them.

Te Whanāu Kōmiti Whakahaere o Te Rūmaik Reo spokesperson Raniera Lee-Watene said the kaupapa is meant to be progressing - instead, it's going backwards. 

"At the end of the day it's a huge kaupapa for us out here in Papakura but it's about bringing awareness to the whole nation that this is 2022 whanau and it's still happening. It's time to move."

Their media release sent out late Monday evening stated that the committee had been working with Rūmaki Whānau of Papakura High School and the community for the past twelve weeks.

The release also stated that two senior kaiako were stood down earlier this term, one pending employment action and one pending personal grievance.
Their immediate concerns are that of the education of the tamariki in the Rūmaki Reo Unit, and therefore have persevered to establish a respectful communication with the school board and school principal but to no avail.

In their petition, they have requested a full independent investigation to address concerns at Papakura High School and said that the Ministry of Education is in breach of the Education and Training Act 2020 and its obligations under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

The school's roll has around 900 pupils with 60 percent of the students being Māori descent. According to the committee, the Rūmaki Reo unit was implemented last year following its pilot programme in 2019.

Last month, students at the school protested wanting answers from principal Simon Craggs.

The principal and the board of trustees both declined to be interviewed but in a joint statement, said:

"The Papakura High School Board would like to acknowledge the concerns of some whānau from the Rūmaki programme and students around the resignation of staff. We know that this comes from a place of care for the students and their education.

"The school and Board take our responsibilities regarding staff very seriously but are unable to discuss employment issues with you in a public forum. Matters like these take time to work through and we are committed to ensuring that the process is fair for all involved,

"At this time with the disruptions caused by COVID, we are trying to focus on the learning of our students and to ensure that they meet their learning goals and achieve their national qualifications. We ask that you treat this matter sensitively as it could negatively impact the students," they added. 

Hautū Te Tai Raro at the Ministry of Education Isabel Evens said employment matters are for the Board of Trustees and are being managed "accordingly".

"The Board and principal are being advised and guided by the school's kaumatua and other respected Māori educators. We are also in regular contact with the school to provide support and guidance as needed.

"The appointment of the school's principal was made by the limited statutory manager at the time, whose powers included managing employment.

"The aim of any intervention is always to return the school to full self-management as soon as the recommendations of the intervention have been met."

This article is part of Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air