Jacinda Ardern praises 'engaged students' amid complaints of schools removing Black Lives Matter posters

The Prime Minister is praising "engaged students" who are "thinking critically" amid complaints of teachers tearing down Black Lives Matter posters in schools.

A formal complaint has been lodged with the board at Auckland's Marist College after students complained of not being able to express support for African-American man George Floyd who died after a violent arrest.  

Jacinda Ardern said on Wednesday the removal of posters is ultimately a matter for schools, but said students should be encouraged to engage with the world around them on both domestic and international issues. 

"I'd say that in New Zealand we'd want our young people to be engaged in the issues that are around them, including whether it's domestically or internationally. Engaged citizens, that's good for New Zealand," Ardern said. 

"I think we're all better off when we have young people who are engaged in the world around them and are thinking critically about the world around them."

Auckland mum Ani Cherrington told Morning Report she was furious her daughter Nia and other students got in trouble for putting up Black Lives Matter posters without the school's permission. 

"We've had a lot of problems with our teachers being racist towards students and trying to force their views on them. But I think we're just trying to address the systematic and casual racism that's so present within our school and what a lot of our girls have had to deal with for years really."

She said teachers have told students that "all lives matter". 

Marist College said in a statement it was aware of the concern students have raised about racism and said it is taking the allegations against teachers seriously. 

"Marist College is aware of the concern of our young people have about racism in our society and in the world. We stand with them in sharing the rejection of actions and attitudes that are racist and violent.

"We are working with our student leaders to help them share this message with our community, while also recognising that we are governed by policies and procedures."

The school board and senior management are reviewing the issued raised, the statement said. 

"As always, the wellbeing of our students is our priority and this will be at the forefront of any decisions we make within the guidelines of our policies and Catholic education."

Floyd's death in Minneapolis sparked a wave of anti-racism protests across the globe, after footage showed him begging for mercy as a white police officer knelt on his neck. The officer has since been charged with murder. 

Thousands marched in New Zealand in solidarity with Floyd, despite the COVID-19 alert level 2 rules at the time only allowing gatherings of up to 100 people. 

The Prime Minister said she could not support the protest because of the rule-breaking, but she condemned the way Floyd died, describing it as "horrifying". 

"Something that I believe is one of our strengths is our ability to openly discuss where we are in terms of our fight against racism and intolerance, issues of unconscious bias," Ardern told The AM Show at the time. 

Marist College became one of New Zealand's significant clusters of COVID-19, from which 96 cases could be traced back to. It was the second-biggest cluster behind a wedding in Bluff that sparked 98 cases.

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