In a leaked recording obtained by Newshub, Marist College principal Raechelle Taulu can be heard threatening students with police action over "defamation" in a dispute over the removal of Black Lives Matter posters.
The audio sent to Newshub was recorded during a year 13 assembly on Tuesday after students were pulled from class to hear an address from Taulu about complaints of racism against staff for tearing down the posters.
Taulu could be heard telling students she agreed with the Black Lives Matter message, but that students must obey the rules and seek permission to post activist material on school grounds.
"I'm talking to a few of you who have an amazing cause but are going about it in a non-Catholic way... This is not the way of Mary and this is not how we do things at Marist... I know I took down posters and I will take them down again."
Taulu threatened the students with police action over "defamation" following complaints of racism within the school's management.
"I'm contemplating whether or not I'm going to the police, because I'm feeling like it is actually a defamation of character and I am contemplating that. I'd like not to, and the only way I will stop that is if you stop, OK? Because it needs to stop - and I find out about it."
Taulu could also be heard scolding the students for printing posters when the school has a goal of going paper-free this year, and that as Catholics, they should consider the environment.
"We've got a school goal this year for no paper printing... You know, we're really a Catholic school... We have a responsibility in taking care of our environment and our school goal is to reduce printing."
Year 13 student Nia Cherrington, who stepped down as Marist College's cultural leader after the Black Lives Matter posters were torn down, told Newshub the students felt "threatened" in the assembly.
Some outspoken students could be heard in the audio saying they were not told the posters had to come down, but Taulu argued they were and that she was within her rights to take them down without warning.
A staff member could be heard saying students should know their place.
"In a workplace there's a thing called a hierarchy... What I understand is that if Ms Taulu as the principal decides to do something, she is entitled to without emailing you first."
Taulu, who said she is of Cook Island-Māori and Pākehā descent, told Newshub the audio was captured without her consent and she did not provide a response.
But she pointed to a statement released by Marist College on Wednesday that said the school was aware of concerns about racism and that it stood with students in the "rejection of actions and attitudes that are racist and violent".
The statement said the school board and senior management were taking the claims of racism "seriously" and are reviewing the issues raised with them.
"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."
'I stand in full support of these young leaders'
Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson condemned the school's actions and said she has reached out to Nia Cherrington and her family to offer support.
"I stand in full support of these young leaders taking positive action to show solidarity against systemic racism and to show love for black communities at this time," she told Newshub.
The students were expressing support for African-American man George Floyd whose death sparked protests across the globe after footage showed him begging for mercy as a white police officer knelt on his neck.
"The school's actions show that we still have a long way to go in the fight against systemic racism, including here in Aotearoa," Davidson said. "The Green Party backs the students' right to protest and applauds them for making their voices heard."
The AM Show host Duncan Garner has a daughter at Marist College who he said is one of the students involved in the school's Black Lives Matter movement.
Garner said the school overreacted to the posters being put up.
"I think the casual but very serious threats from the principal to stand these girls down, or in some way suspend them, is a ridiculous, over-the-top reaction that's inflammatory and does nothing to defuse and resolve."