By Rowan Forster
Student aide positions at Emerald Secondary College have been slashed – leaving disabled and intellectually disadvantaged pupils to fend for themselves.
Despite a $1.5 million Victorian Government cash splash for a dedicated inclusion facility, furious parents claim support staff roles have been reduced from 16 EFT to just four over the past three years.
The Department of Education conceded that roles have been cut, but disputed the figures alleged by parents.
According to the Department, Emerald Secondary College funded 8.08 EFT in 2015 – comprising of 13 teacher aides.
They claim that number has reduced to 4.88 EFT, or seven teacher aides, in 2018.
Remaining staff are required to tend to 26 students with special needs, reportedly placing immense pressure on teachers.
In response to the cutbacks, a community petition has been launched demanding answers from Education Minister James Merlino and the Department of Education.
The petition – titled ‘reinstate our classroom support’ – has garnered more than 400 signatures in the span of several days.
Emerald mother Lynne Stack claims a freedom of information request constructed by a group of parents was denied by the department.
She says the school’s students – including her son, who suffers from Asperger’s – are being overwhelmed by the lack of assistance.
“We, along with a number of other parents at the school are very distressed by what is happening,” she said.
“This withdrawal of support occurred abruptly and suddenly without any communication to those involved.
“The impact of this has been significant, leaving students overwhelmed, unsupported and at risk in the classroom.”
For mother-of-two Olinka Edwards, the shortfall has had profound consequences for one of her sons.
“I had a funded child at Emerald Secondary from 2015 until 2017 but he was forced to move to another school to complete senior school years as ESC could no longer meet his education requirements,” she said.
“Moving a funded child to a school 40 kilometres away is not a decision taken lightly as it affects all aspects that are so important to a youth’s life – friendships, security and feeling of inclusion to name a few.”
Ms Stack’s allegations have also been backed by Catriona Knothe, the parent of a former Emerald Secondary College student.
She said that an existing building has been used as the highly touted inclusion facility – despite it being spruiked as a brand new development under Labor’s $10 million Inclusive Schools Fund.
According to current figures, the school has an enrolment of 870 students.
Ms Stack believes every single student is being affected by the shortfall.
“Whilst this is indeed a tragedy for our students with special needs, this situation is impacting on every student in our school,” she said.
“Teachers not only have the challenge of meeting the needs of the class as a whole, but now have the added pressure of managing the specific learning, behavioural and safety needs of funded students.”
A Department of Education spokeswoman said Emerald Secondary College staff are provided with ongoing learning and development to ensure they continue to meet the individual educational and wellbeing needs of students.
“All students eligible for the Program for Students with Disabilities at Emerald Secondary College are currently supported according to their individual educational needs and as part of an education plan that the school develops in consultation with their parents and teachers,” she said.
“This funding is given directly to schools for principals to determine how the allocated resources can best be used to support the individual needs of their students.”
The Department did not provide a justification for the slashed positions, but guidelines for the Students with Disabilities program states the level of annual funding provided to each school is determined by the number of eligible students attending and their level of need.gible students attending and their level of need.