SCHOOLS AND TRESPASS NOTICES
Trespass notices are sometimes used by schools to deal with difficult or disruptive
individuals or persistent complainants. However trespass notices should only be used as a
last resort when it is really necessary and ordinary warning letters have failed. Although the
school has on obligation to ensure the safety and well-being of students and employees,
banning the difficult person from the entire school for two years is not always necessary and
may result in ongoing disputes. If the person is someone who would normally have a right to
come onto the school grounds, state schools need to follow a fair process, communicate
their intention, and give the person the opportunity to respond before issuing a written
trespass notice. Bear in mind that trespass notices filed with the Police remain on the Police
record even after they have expired.
Schools and school grounds
It is not always understood that schools and school grounds are not freely accessible by the
public. State schools are owned by the Ministry of Education and the board of trustees is the
lawful “occupier” responsible for managing the school and grounds.
Teachers and current students have a right to be on school grounds at appropriate times
and parents have an “implied licence” to come onto school grounds. An implied licence
means it is assumed they have a right to be in certain parts of the school at certain times.
Members of the public do not have an automatic right to be on school grounds although
some will have an implied licence to attend for certain events, or depending on functions,
roles and historical community relationships. In smaller communities, for example, there may
be an implied licence for the community to cross or use the school grounds after hours.
Under the Trespass Act 1980 the school has two ways to deal with individuals that it decides
should not be on school grounds. Under section 3 the principal can warn a disruptive or
dangerous person, or a person who has no reason to be on the school grounds, to leave the
school immediately, and can call the Police if they don’t. This is usually done verbally.
Under section 4 the school can warn someone to stay off the property in future, usually by
written trespass notice. The default period in the Act is for two years. The trespass notice
removes the implied licence that a person might otherwise have to enter and remain on land.
In either case, if a person ignores the warning, the Police can be called and the person may
be charged with an offence under the Act.
However issuing a written trespass notice to stay off school property for two years is a
decision with more long term implications than warning someone to leave the school
grounds on a single occasion. State schools are public bodies, so issuing a trespass notice
to someone who would normally expect to be able to come onto the school grounds is a
“public law” decision and a fair process should be followed. A board of trustees or, if
delegated, the principal, may make the decision, but the decision may be reviewed by the
Ombudsman or be subject to judicial review by a Court.
Withdrawing trespass notices
Trespass notices can be withdrawn by the occupier at any time, by writing to the person
trespassed and, if the notice was filed with the Police, by notifying the Police.