Raw deal for special needs students

Emerald Secondary College principal Jodie Doble with State MP James Merlino and Paul Woods from Stone and Wood Consultants discussed the development of a new integration centre at the school in 2015. 146336 Picture: VICTORIA STONE-MEADOWS

By Derek Schlennstedt

A disgruntled parent has called on the Minister of Education James Merlino and the Department of Education to release information about the allocation of a $1.5 million school funding grant made in 2015.
In a letter to the Mail News Group, Catriona Knothe, a parent of a former Emerald Secondary College student, has said that an existing building had been refurbished to use as an inclusion facility and that part of the funding had been used for other purposes.
Mr Merlino has decried the accusations as false.
“The accusations made in this letter are completely false and the promise made in 2015 is being delivered,” Mr Merlino said.
“Building works started earlier this year, and the Victorian School Building Authority is working closely with the appointed architect, builders and the school, to ensure that the funds are used to make Emerald Secondary College an inclusive school.”
In 2015, the Pakenham Gazette reported that Emerald Secondary College would replace old school portables used by students who had learning difficulties with a new purpose-built facility after they received a $1.5 million funding allocation from the 2015/’16 State Budget.
That funding was part of Labor’s $10 million Inclusive Schools Fund, which was designed to provide Victorian Government schools with quality new spaces and more inclusive facilities, based on best practice research and design.
However, as stated in Catriona’s letter a meeting held in November 2016 led by the current school principal heard that the $1.5 million purpose-built integration building “was not forthcoming, and a lesser unspecified amount would be spent refurbishing an existing building.”
“This would be shared with wellbeing programs,” Catriona said.
“In school newsletters, there had been reference to building programs and the inclusion centre, but none of us assumed that this $1.5 million purpose-built integration building wouldn’t happen, so the integration parents put their trust in the school and in the funding announcement.”
Catriona also said that school leadership was now at this late stage suggesting that inclusion support staff and some higher needs students and their lockers would be based in the library rather than the refurbished building, meaning student privacy and confidentiality would be compromised due to a lack of secure storage and an absence of private meeting spaces – an issue raised by parents at meetings.
“I would hope that there is space to base inclusion support staff and locker space for all students with disabilities in the refurbished building,” Catriona said.
“At the November 2016 meeting, parents of these students identified this as critical for those students who cannot manage the chaos of mainstream locker areas and needed help,” she said.
Catriona made an FOI request over nine months ago for a detailed breakdown of the budget for the allocated funds, however, has not yet received a response from the Department of Education.
Despite being approached, the Department of Education has not yet provided comment.
To read the full letter, turn to page 6