Permission To Speak? Denied!
In the South Island town of Rangiora, secondary school principal Peggy Burrows has been battling to be reinstated to her position after being sacked.
Why? Well, I only know what I have read in the school’s 2012 ERO report and a well-written Listener article which I invite you to read here:
It’s a complicated tale that began when some of the Board Of Trustees fell out with each other (and Principal Burrows) over the sale of farmland belonging to the school and the disagreement led to the appointment of School Commissioner Bev Moore.
The Listener article reports that when Commissioner Moore was appointed she sent Principal Burrows a message ‘telling her not to speak to the media about any of the circumstances that led to the appointment.’ She was also advised her to seek prior approval before talking to the media about anything and that any breach ‘would be viewed very seriously and may lead to my commencing disciplinary action against you.’
In other words Commissioner Moore issued a gagging order.
As I understand it, following his report on what was happening at Rangiora High School, TVNZ reporter Michael Parkin was sent a bundle of school documents and an anonymous covering letter.
To investigate ‘the leak’ the Listener article says School Commissioner Bev Moore decided to hire a private investigator ( at the cost of $28,000 ) who reported the motive and opportunity would ‘appear to support’ the premise that the principal played a ‘part in the release of information contained within the TVNZ documents and/or some part in the release of the documents themselves’ .
On the back of this finding, it seems, Peggy Burrows was suspended from her position and then later sacked for what Moore said in a media statement was: ‘matters relating to integrity/security of documentation came to light, including a significant breach of privacy’.
Peggy Burrows has had a distinguished career and academically Rangiora High School was performing very well at the time she was sacked (which it wasn’t when she became the principal). So she has a good reputation which she rightly wanted to defend at a time when rumours and allegations were spreading in the small rural Canterbury town that she had done something terribly wrong.
Now, whether or not Burrows was involved in ‘leaking’ school documents, I have to say, isn’t as important as the question of whether the public has a right to know what is going on in a public school being paid for from the public purse?
Why should school documents have to be ‘leaked’ to media anyway? Shouldn’t all school documentation about the operation of a public school and its financial management be transparent?
As to privacy issues in the matter, it’s hard to know what those might be without seeing all the actual documents, but again as this is a publicly elected board doing business on behalf of the public then why the blanket demand for secrecy?
Surely there will be many documents in which privacy is not an issue.
Freedom of speech, thought and opinion are such valuable rights that we need to support people who are denied them.
Peggy Burrows was issued a gagging order. She could not defend herself against rumour and speculation.
I see that Employment Relations Authority is to rule on a request made to them this week that she be re-gagged and so she is asking for people to like and share the Support For Peggy Burrows Facebook page while she still has time to do so. You can find it here:
You may also wish to sign the petition to reinstate her as principal which you can find here:
In my documentary World Class? which aired on TV3 last week. I pointed to what I believe are significant problems without system of self -managed schools. I also the issue of a lack of trust between our teachers and the Ministry Of Education.
The issues at Rangiora High School and the attempts to silence former Principal Peggy Burrows, it seems to me, further highlight the need for the nationwide hui I suggested at the end of the programme to discuss the reform of our school administration system.
Because when it comes to public education silence is not golden. It’s corrosive.