The Hon. PAUL GREEN [9.03 p.m.]: Tonight I wish to speak about a small but very valuable school, Martins Creek Public School, which is in a rural part of the Hunter region of New South Wales. Martins Creek Public School has a proud and rich education history dating back 121 years to its original school on Black Rock Road. Following the opening of a quarry and developments in the construction of a railway, the school was moved to its present site on Cook Street in 1923. The Martins Creek Public School is a small school that is located in the Paterson River Valley. Parents and the local community offer strong support for the school, making it an important focus in the community.
The school’s objective is to provide a happy, caring and supportive learning environment where children gain the knowledge, skills, values and attitudes to be successful members of the community. Martins Creek Public School has a strong emphasis on literacy, numeracy, technology and performing arts. The school also places an emphasis on the importance of nurturing and fostering the education of children with disabilities. Over the years it has provided a hospitable environment for a number of disabled students. A few days ago, on 21 March, we celebrated World Down Syndrome Day. The Martins Creek Public School is particularly skilled in managing students with Down syndrome. I wish to refer to correspondence I received in regard to an individual student in relation to Down syndrome:
I am particularly concerned for a child in my care. He has Down Syndrome which pales in light of the trauma he has suffered in his short life. He has been with us for two years now and he approaches each day like walking out into a battlefield. But it is not his sad past that I reflect on, rather the huge, unbelievable gains he has made. Martins Creek school are skilled in the area of Down Syndrome, they accept, include and respect all disabilities. This child is happy, safe and doing well. Neither of the neighbouring schools can meet his needs, he will be an easy target for bullying, [if he were to attend either school] he will become anxious, soil himself and run away. He is hearing impaired, he cannot cope in large crowds and he will fight for survival. He will turn against us and see negative change as betrayal. He will shut down again.
The DEC will pack him off to a special school as the best place for him, forty minutes down and forty minutes back with a complete stranger.
He will regress.
This testimony relates to a local school that is taking on a Down syndrome student who is doing fantastically well. There is no doubt that all people in New South Wales should be proud of schools like the Martins Creek Public School. Such schools should be fostered, nourished and well-resourced. Unfortunately, that has not been the recent experience of the Martins Creek Public School. Instead, it has an axe hanging over its head. Parents and staff are unsure of the outcome following recent news that it might be closed down. The local community has rallied behind the school and has written to the Department of Education and Communities, asking for it to be saved.
The Christian Democratic Party understands that the consultation period on the future of the school began on 29 November 2013 and was to end on 28 February 2014. We are most concerned with the transparency of this process for a number of reasons: first, the Department of Education and Communities’ own protocols give 12 months as the indicative length for the period of consultation; and, secondly, in this case, such consultation has been restricted to the acceptance of submissions made in response to points raised at a meeting that was held in November 2013… …The Christian Democratic Party understands that the minutes of that meeting have not been made available to frustrated parents. The time for the preparation of submissions now has passed without the minutes having been made available. How can parents defend a case without knowing what they have to defend against?
The consultation timing also is disappointing. Given that the time for submissions was during the Christmas holiday break, many of the people who were hoping to make submissions and the outside experts who were assisting in the preparation of those submissions were on holidays for most of that time. It is quite disturbing to note that, upon becoming aware of the review process, the parent body placed advertisements in the local paper that were very flattering to the school in a bid to increase enrolments. In response to those advertisements, the school’s right to accept enrolments was suspended, despite an assurance having been given that the school would retain this right. If the powers that be are trying to shut down the school due to a lack of enrolments, that would be the best way to do it. The Minister for Education should enter into open and transparent communication with the parents and students of the school.