Student leaders lead school protest over changes to special learning unit | #students | #parents

Student leaders from a regional New South Wales high school are vowing to fight against a Department of Education decision to remove demountables used by their peers in a learning support unit. 

In October the department told students and parents at Oak Flats High School that the demountables used by the Jamberoo Support Unit were surplus to the school’s needs and would be sent elsewhere.

At a protest outside the school on Thursday, vice-captain Molly Campbell said the department was failing its own disability strategy.

“The Department of Education is displaying hypocritical ableist qualities and I know I won’t stand for it,” she said.

“We are protesting so the department can rectify their mistake by providing permanent classrooms to help give my peers a more equitable place to learn.”

Student leaders from Oak Flats High School support their peers from the Jamberoo Unit.(ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)

The Jamberoo Support Unit has been operating at the school for the past 11 years and currently supports 49 students.

The six demountables are next to a courtyard and sensory garden that is attached to the mainstream school.

Students can study in the space, receive additional educational support and gradually increase their use of mainstream classes and spaces.

More detail was shared with Jamberoo students on Wednesday when they were told they would have access to five or six separated classrooms in the main block next year.

Students want their voices heard

Sixteen-year-old Rylee Jamieson said the demountables were a special space for the students.

“I’m out here today to represent the Jamberoo Unit to make sure our voices are heard,’ she said.

“The department wants to take our demountables and put us into the mainstream block and building, which isn’t right, they shouldn’t be doing that.

“I’m out here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Minister responsible for ‘great distress’

Parent Isabell Jamieson said they were worried about how the change would impact their children.

A mother stands beside her daughter holding a sign that reads "we all have a right to learn"
Isabell Jamieson and daughter Rylee are fighting against the removal of the demountables.(ABC Illawarra: Kelly Fuller)

“The space is six buildings altogether, it’s a real sense of their own little community, they all feel safe, they all support each other,” Ms Jamieson said.

“If they are overwhelmed they can step outside to their sensory garden and calm down.

“Spreading them all over the school is going to break their community.”

Ms Jamieson said it was not fair the students in the support unit were being punished for a decline in numbers in the mainstream.

“You talk to the special education teachers that are here — we have massive waiting lists, [the unit] is a success story.

“To take it away is just ridiculous; the department should be using this as an example of how special education can work.”

Ms Jamieson said offers to soundproof the rooms in the mainstream block were “just a small part of a much bigger, complex picture”.

“I want Sarah Mitchell [Education Minister] to understand that she’s being responsible for great distress for 49 children who are innocent, who don’t deserve it for the sake of a couple of thousand dollars,” she said.

“We pay our taxes. This is what our taxes are for. You know you work your whole life, these demountables are pretty crap, but they are ours and they provide a safe space for our kids.”

Minister for Education, Sarah Mitchell said she was aware of the concerns.

“The community can be assured that the department will work with them on how best to support students in the Jamberoo Unit as they transition into permanent teaching spaces,” Ms Mitchell said.

A spokesperson for the department said it was working to relocate classes from temporary demountable buildings to available teaching spaces in the permanent buildings.

“The learning environments will be prepared in a way that meets the needs of the Jamberoo Unit,” they said.

“The demountable buildings will not be removed until the new learning spaces are ready, which is expected by the end of term 4.”

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