Asbestos may close Warilla North Public School

Warilla North Public School students are being bussed to other schools due to asbestos concerns. Picture: SYLVIA LIBERParents fear one of the region’s most disadvantaged schools will be closed for good to avoid the cost of removing asbestos from its buildings.The Department of Education yesterday refused to quash speculation Warilla North Public School is on the chopping block, or to confirm asbestos remediation works had been priced at $4.7 million, as claimed by some parents.Students from the school are losing up to an hour of learning a day under stop-gap arrangements that involve being bussed to and from schools at Mt Warrigal and Barrack Heights.The arrangements have been in place since May, when material believed to be asbestos was found in two buildings.Parents say the buses sometimes run late, and the arrangements are exacerbating behavioural problems and learning difficulties of some students.Jody Byrnes, who left school in Year 7, is determined to see her son Steven get a better start in life. She believes the school would have been fixed already if it was in a richer area.”There’s people here who are on the dole, single mothers,” she said.”We’re not rich. We don’t have money to send them to private schools. They don’t have much of a start anyway but they’re the generation that could be different.”Ms Byrnes is among parents circulating petitions to “save” the school. She believes its small size – about 120 students – will be used to help justify its permanent closure and is frustrated at the level of information provided by the Department of Education.”We got told it would be closed for two weeks, we got told three months, then we got told they’re not sure,” she said. “Now we’re getting told nothing.”Any time we ask if it’s closing they say it could be a possibility.”A spokeswoman for the department said it was “continuing to investigate all available options” in relation to the school, and that two additional teachers had been allocated to displaced students, bringing the school’s quota above the usual entitlement.”Children’s transportation to and from Warilla North Public School was in response to their requests and for their convenience,” she said. “The bus is rarely late, and when it has been, the department has worked with the bus company to ensure there is no repeat.”Warilla North is described on the Government’s My School website as “a small school which caters for the needs of a low socio-economic status community”.The Index of Community Socio-Educational Advantage value for the school is 898, well below the 1000 average and the fourth-lowest of the 86 Illawarra public primary schools ranked on the site.Shellharbour MP Lylea McMahon said she would meet parents on Monday but had limited information on the issue.”I’ll be acting in the best interests of my community and that would be to ensure that the school is remediated and that the kids are returned to their local school as soon as possible,” she said.”I understand that it has taken some time for a complete assessment of the school in terms of the asbestos.”The asbestos was uncovered as work began on an $850,000 upgrade to the school library and covered outdoor learning area – part of the Building the Education Revolution.
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