Whangārei Boys’ High School is halting all outdoor education class trips as three investigations into its practices begin.
Stuff can also reveal outdoor education trips previously approved by the board included year 12 overnight stays in Russell Forest – with one trip planned for Thursday night amid a forecast for heavy rain and strong wind.
The school has been under intense scrutiny after the death of a student, 15-year-old Karnin Ahorangi Petera, during a year 11 class trip to Abbey Caves last Tuesday.
The trip went ahead during a heavy rain warning. Ahorangi was swept away by rising floodwaters and his body was recovered later that night. Ahorangi was farewelled on Sunday.
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Support for affected students and staff remains a priority for the school, principal Karen Gilbert-Smith wrote in a letter to parents on Wednesday night, which she also shared with Stuff.
Gilbert-Smith outlined further details about three investigations now underway – across WorkSafe, police on behalf of the Coroner and Education Outdoors New Zealand as part of an internal review.
WorkSafe met with the board of trustees and the school’s senior leaders on Tuesday, with its investigation expected to take up to a year before WorkSafe makes any decisions, she said.
The police investigation will inform the coronial process, which will take place after the WorkSafe process finishes, Gilbert-Smith said.
“We understand that this is not a criminal investigation.”
Gilbert-Smith said all off-site school visits were immediately paused after the Abbey Caves incident.
WorkSafe has now checked the school’s documents and given the all-clear to resume regular school trips, such as field trips and sporting events.
Gilbert-Smith encouraged parents to get in contact with the person in charge of a trip if they had questions about risk management systems in place.
However, outdoor education class trips will not resume at this time, she said.
As well as the upcoming Russell Forest trip planned for Thursday night, other approved trips now on ice include more caving trips – for year 13 students in Waitomo in June, year 12 students in Waipū in August and a year 13 “bush survival” trip in the Kaimai Ranges also in August.
Gilbert-Smith said the school’s own review is also under way, with Education Outdoors New Zealand reviewing education outside of the classroom and the school’s outdoor education curriculum.
The school is also “investigating other relevant actions” which could affect the health and safety of students, staff and visitors.
The school was visited by WorkSafe in March after a teacher was injured in an incident involving unguarded machinery.
Gilbert-Smith said the school wants to strengthen its health and safety practices and support the WorkSafe and police investigations.
“Our school is committed to supporting these investigations so that everyone directly impacted by this tragic incident, along with our school whānau and wider community, have an independent understanding of the events of the day.
“There needs to be clarity around how this happened and what can be learnt so that any similar incidents do not happen again in the future at any school.”
Gilbert-Smith finished the letter by sending thoughts and aroha to Karnin’s whānau, who sent a broad message of thanks on Wednesday.