Student Rights

Free legal help for students, parents & caregivers

Student welfare and safety: The school’s obligations

What are the school’s obligations to students?

Boards of trustees of state and integrated schools, and the governing bodies of private schools, are responsible for the care of students and for providing a safe learning environment. They have key obligations in the following areas:

  • Education Act 1989, ss 60A, 61, 63
    National Administration Guidelines, NAG 2(b), 5 (go to: www.minedu.govt.nz)

    Education policy and guidelines – School boards are required by government education guidelines to provide a safe physical and emotional environment for students. Schools should have policies to achieve a safe environment, including an anti-bullying policy, and should regularly review these policies. The guidelines also require the school to promote healthy food and nutrition for all students.
  • Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, ss 37 and 45

    Health and safety laws – Schools have to take all practicable steps to make sure no physical or mental harm happens to students during school hours, on school grounds, or at school-related activities. These health and safety requirements apply not just to school boards of trustees but also to governing committees of school boarding hostels.
  • Accident Compensation Act 2001, s 317

    Duty of care under civil law – Schools also owe a duty of care to their students under the civil law of negligence, and a student who suffers harm may be able to bring a claim in the courts for a breach of this duty of care. However, in particular cases, this right may be barred by the ACC laws. Physical injuries, and psychological harm related to physical injuries, are likely to be covered by ACC, and that means you can’t bring civil claims in the courts for them. A lawyer will be able to help you understand what options may be available in your case.
  • Code of Ethics for Registered Teachers, clause 1(f) www.teacherscouncil.govt.nz/ethics

    Teachers’ ethical duties – A Code of Ethics established by the New Zealand Teachers Council places an ethical obligation on registered teachers to “promote the physical, emotional, social, intellectual and spiritual wellbeing of learners”.See “Bullying in schools” for more on schools’ obligations.

Specific health and safety issues

My child’s school is refusing to administer their prescribed medication – what can I do?

Ministry of Education Circular 1997/29 “The Administration of Prescribed Medication by School Staff in Non-Emergency Situations”

School boards should have a policy on administering medication at school.

Students must be allowed to take prescribed medication during school hours if necessary to access their right to education.

However, school staff have the right to choose whether they want to take on the responsibility for administering medication. It’s reasonable for schools to require parents or guardians to give written permission for staff to hold this responsibility.

Life threatening situations

Ministry of Education, Health Conditions in Education Settings: A Guide for Early Childhood Services and Schools

If a student has an existing medical condition, it is a good idea to plan how to manage an emergency situation in their health care plan. For example, by deciding who will be responsible for making decisions or administering first aid.

Crimes Act 1961, s 157

There is no general duty to save a life in the law generally. However, if someone assumes responsibility for doing an act, like providing medical treatment, and failure to do that act might be dangerous to life, then that person is under a legal duty to do that act.

The person doesn’t have to explicitly say they’re taking responsibility; it might be shown by their actions.

For example, if a student starts having a life-threatening asthma attack, and a teacher runs to collect their inhaler, a court might find that the teacher then had a legal duty to administer the inhaler.

How should medicines be stored at school?

Ministry of Education, Health Conditions in Education Settings: A Guide for Early Childhood Services and Schools

Check product instructions – for example, the product instructions for Ritalin, an ADHD medication, recommend keeping it out of reach of children by storing it in a locked cupboard at least one-and-a-half metres above the ground.

The Health and Safety Code of Practice for State and State Integrated Schools, clause 15

Boards are responsible for making sure that any substance that is capable of endangering people’s health is stored in a safe and secure manner. This might apply to some medications.

I was hurt in an accident at school – is the school required to record this?

Health and Safety Code of Practice for State and State Integrated Schools

Yes. The school must keep a register and record any accidents that result in harm (or might have resulted in harm) to anyone in the school. If you were given first aid treatment, the school needs to also record this.

If someone is seriously harmed, the school must also notify WorkSafe and complete a written report.

I’m a transgender student and I need access to a gender neutral bathroom at school. What can I do about this?

The Ministry of Education’s Sexuality Education guidelines (2015) state that schools may want to consider reviewing their toilet facilities to ensure all students have a choice of a safe space. This may include allowing students to use the bathrooms matching their gender identity or offering gender neutral (unisex) bathrooms. If you’d like your school to review their toilet facilities, you should talk to your teacher or principal, or write to the board of trustees.

Compliance Document for New Zealand Building Code, cl G1 Personal Hygiene

If a school chooses to offer gender neutral bathrooms, each facility must:

  • Be in a self-contained unit;
  • Note: Schools don’t have to provide separate toilet facilities for male and female students. If you’re asking your school to review their toilet facilities, it may help your case to remind them of this.

    Have full height doors and walls to maintain full privacy; and
  • Contain a toilet, basin and sanitary item disposal area.

I have a food allergy – should my school ban all foods with the allergen in them?

Allergy New Zealand doesn’t recommend banning food products. Bans are often impractical, and don’t teach children the strategies they need to cope with their allergy.

Instead, they recommend four steps:

  1. Medical information. Schools will usually ask for medical information when a student enrols. If they don’t, it’s important for parents to provide comprehensive information about their child’s allergy as soon as possible, including: what their child is allergic to (their allergens), the appropriate first aid response and medications, and emergency contact details (including their doctor). Parents might want to meet with staff to explain this further.
  2. Staff training. Schools must provide a safe environment for students (NAG 5(a)). Staff should be educated about allergies and anaphylaxis (a severe, potentially fatal allergic reaction). They should know the causes of allergic reactions and be confident in recognising them and applying first aid – including using adrenaline autoinjectors (EpiPens) if necessary. Face-to-face training is best, but free online training is available from the Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy at www.allergy.org.nz
  3. Practical strategies. For food allergies, strategies include: no trading or sharing food, clearly labelling lunch boxes and drinks, and teaching about hand washing. For stings and bites, strategies include: taking reasonable measures to decrease plants which attract stinging insects and ensuring children wear appropriate clothing and play in low risk areas.
  4. Education of students and peers. It’s mostly a parent’s responsibility to teach their child about their allergy and how to look after themselves. However, practical strategies are likely to be more effective if a student’s peers are also educated. This can also help combat allergy-related bullying.More information can be found at www.allergy.org.nz

Education outside the classroom (EOTC)

Can my child be taken on a school trip without my permission?

Ministry of Education’s Education Outside the Classroom Guidelines

Parents should usually be informed in writing of any activities that will take their children out of school grounds. However, schools might not need to get consent – it might be enough to post a notice in the newsletter or send a letter home.

Whether consent is necessary, and what form it needs to take, will depend on the features of the activity, like:

  • The duration – is it one hour, one day or one week?
  • The location – on school grounds, in the local community or overseas?
  • Whether it is in school hours or goes beyond them
  • The risk involved.

For example, if it’s a short activity in the local community during school hours, and involves a low risk environment – like a library or art gallery – it might not be necessary to get parental consent.

On the other hand, your school might ask you to sign a blanket consent form at the beginning of the year to cover low risk activities.

For activities which extend out of school hours or involve higher risk, the school should consider getting a signed parental consent form for each student.

If you choose not to consent, the school should not take your child on the activity.

Examples of activities and the kind of consent that might be needed:

Activity

Duration

Location

School hours

Environmental risk

Likely consent needed

Painting a mural at school

One hour

School grounds

Low

None

Visit to local library

2 hours

Local community

Low

None or blanket consent

Visit to local beach

3 hours

Local community

Medium

Blanket or separate

Day hike in local bush

6 hours

Wider region

Medium

Blanket or separate

School camp

3 days

Wider region

Medium

Separate consent

Overseas sports tournament

2 weeks

Overseas

High

Separate consent and risk disclosure

I’ve been asked to sign a “risk disclosure” form for school camp – does this mean the school won’t be responsible if anything happens to my child?

No. Sometimes with high risk activities, you might be asked to sign a risk disclosure form. This is good practice and is only intended to inform you of the risks involved in the activity – it does not remove the school’s responsibilities towards your child.

My child was sent home from a trip early for misbehaving – do I need to meet the transport costs?

If you were asked to sign a consent form, you should check it – you may have already agreed to pay the costs if your child is sent home early.

Otherwise, you should contact your school to make an arrangement.

I’m helping out at school camp, and I’ve been told I need to get a police check. Do I have to?

Education Act 1989, s 78C, 78CA & 361

The Ministry of Education recommends that schools select volunteers carefully. They aren’t legally required to have volunteers vetted, but they may choose to. Schools are allowed to make a police check a condition of volunteering.

There are other situations where school are required to carry out police checks. Non-teaching employees (like cleaners) must be vetted if they work during normal school hours. Contractors employed to work at the school (for example, doing building work) have to be vetted if they’re likely to have unsupervised access to students during normal school hours.

Also, registered teachers need to have had a recent satisfactory police check in order to get their practising certificate.