Monday, February 13, 2012

Schools and the OIA

Back in June last year, St Patrick's College in Wellington violated the Human Rights Act by refusing to permit a gay student to bring another boy as his date to the school formal. At the time, I suggested that someone could use the OIA to find out how many of our schools were bigots, by asking them for their policies in this area.

Matthew Taylor, a Christchurch high school student, actually did it.

The first result: as expected, schools are not used to dealing with the OIA, are unfamiliar with their statutory duties, and respond extremely poorly to requests for information. Many refused to answer unless Taylor told them who he was and who he was working for. This is of course illegal, and the schools concerned need to be reminded of that by the Ombudsman. One school - Auckland's Elim Christian College - attempted to refuse the request on the basis of improper gain or advantage. Because obviously, its "improper" if they are accountable in any way to the taxpayers who fund them.

Overall, the responses are a litany of bureaucratic hostility and suspicion - exactly what the OIA was supposed to eliminate. There's an obvious need for education here. Unfortunately, since the demise of the Information Authority, its no longer anyone's job to do that. Instead, its left to individual departments - which, if you're a cash-strapped agency which hardly receives any requests, means it doesn't get done, and people get this sort of response. At the least, someone (the Ombudsman?) needs to send them a pamphlet explaining their obligations.

As for the meat of the responses - which schools are bigots and which are not - that will apparently be the subject of another post. I'm looking forward to it.