Student Rights

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Boarders and school hostels

How school hostels are regulated and managed

Boarding hostels are generally run by independent governing boards, even if the hostel is attached to a state or integrated school. Hostels must be licensed under the Education (Hostels) Regulations 2005.

These regulations set out:

  • minimum requirements for hostel premises and facilities, and for hostels’ management practices
  • options for the Ministry of Education to intervene if a hostel doesn’t meet the minimum requirements.

A boarder or a boarder’s parent can complain to the owner of a hostel about a breach of these regulations: see below.

Do hostels have to have written policies and rules?

Education (Hostels) Regulations 2005, regs 54, 57

Yes. In managing the hostel the owners have to follow written policies and operating procedures.

The hostel’s policies must ensure that its boarders:

  • are supported in a positive learning environment
  • are given the opportunity to develop positively within reasonable boundaries
  • feel secure and valued
  • have ready access to people they can trust and confide in, and are supported in raising issues that concern them
  • have ready access to, and some choice about, health and other personal services they may need.

Copies of the policies must be given to parents and boarders who ask for them. The hostel must review their policies at least every three years, and must consult with boarders and parents when they do these reviews.

The relationship between parents, students and the hostel board is a contractual one, like a commercial agreement. Each party agrees to carry out their part:

  • The parents agree to pay fees to the hostel.
  • The hostel agrees to provide food, support and a safe environment for the student.
  • The student agrees to follow the hostel rules.

A student’s relationship with the hostel is separate from their relationship with the school, as the hostel and the school are different institutions. So if the hostel cancels a student’s boarding contract, this doesn’t mean the student is suspended or expelled from the school itself.

Policy on hostel relationships and treatment of boarders

Education (Hostels) Regulations 2005, reg 55

All hostels must have a policy that deals with relationships at the hostel, including relationships between the boarders and relationships between boarders and staff. This policy must help to make sure:

  • that boarders are treated with respect and dignity
  • that they’re given positive guidance promoting appropriate behaviour, and in a way that takes into account each boarder’s age and level of maturity
  • that they’re given positive guidance by the use of praise and encouragement, and that blame, harsh language, and belittling and degrading responses are avoided
  • that when boarders are being given direction and guidance they’re not discriminated against in any way (including by favouritism or hostility), they’re not physically ill-treated or put in solitary confinement, and they’re not refused food, drink, warmth, shelter, privacy or protection
  • that boarders are physically restrained only in the types of situations specified in the policy and only in accordance with the restrictions in the policy.

When can boarders have contact with their parents?

Education (Hostels) Regulations 2005, reg 66

Parents must be able to see or have contact with their child whenever the child is at the hostel and there’s no good reason for the hostel to deny this. A good reason for denying access or contact would include, for example, if a court order forbids it, or if a parent’s behaviour would be likely to be disruptive.

What happens if a boarder breaches a hostel rule?

The law doesn’t set out specific disciplinary processes for boarding hostels. Each hostel will instead have its own disciplinary policies and processes.

The hostel has a contractual obligation to follow the policies and processes it has adopted, as part of the hostel’s contractual relationship with the boarder and parents. However, parents and students can also rely on an implied term of their contract that the hostel will behave fairly and reasonably.

The hostel should have provided the student and parents with a list of hostel rules. If for example the student drank alcohol at the hostel, and this is specifically forbidden by the rules, the hostel should:

  • interview each student involved in the incident and ask them for a response
  • consider each student’s response without prejudging whether or not they’re guilty
  • reach a decision based on the facts and evidence.

If the hostel rules clearly state that drinking alcohol can result in the student being expelled from the hostel, and the student is given a fair hearing, the board may be justified in cancelling their contract with the student and expelling them from the hostel.

The hostel’s disciplinary policy may include an appeal procedure that you can use if you’re not happy with a disciplinary decision.

Can a student be disciplined by the school for breaking hostel rules?

The hostel and the school are separate institutions, and each will have to follow a proper process for dealing with misbehaviour according to their own rules. A student can’t be automatically expelled from school simply because they’ve been expelled from the hostel. Unfortunately, being expelled from the hostel often means the student won’t have a suitable place to live and so won’t be able to continue at the school.

If a boarder has breached the hostel rules, the school principal will need to consider whether any school rule has also been breached. For example, if the boarder drank alcohol in the hostel and the school rules ban alcohol from the school premises, the principal will need to consider whether the hostel is part of the school premises. If the principal decides a school rule has in fact been broken, they’ll need to decide what action to take. If they formally suspend the student, the student will need to appear before a disciplinary hearing with the school board of trustees.

see page 69

What if the hostel breaches the hostel regulations?

Education (Hostels) Regulations 2005, regs 67, 68, 75

Boarders and their parents can complain to the owner of the hostel, either verbally or in writing, if the hostel breaches the hostel regulations – for example, if the hostel building and rooms aren’t up to the minimum standards, or if the school doesn’t have the required written policies in place or if they haven’t followed their policies.

All hostels must have a complaints process in place that is fair, simple, speedy and efficient.

If hostels don’t comply with the rules and minimum standards in the regulations, the owner can be prosecuted and fined up to $10,000.

How will the hostel deal with my complaint?

Education (Hostels) Regulations 2005, regs 68, 69

When a hostel owner receives a complaint from you, they have to:

  • put the complaint in writing, if you made it verbally
  • give you a written acknowledgement of your complaint within five working days
  • tell you about their internal processes for dealing with complaints, and give you a copy of this information if you ask for it
  • give you a copy of all information they have that may be relevant
  • put their response to your complaint in writing.

The hostel owner then has 10 working days to either make a decision about the complaint or let you know you that they need more time. If they do take more time, they must still make a decision as soon as possible.