Parents at Walgett Community College demand action from NSW Education Minister on school violence
Parents confronted the NSW Education Minister during a visit to Walgett in the North West of the state, demanding intervention on long-term problems at the school.
- Walgett Community College in northwestern New South Wales has been plagued with serious problems
- NSW Education Minister traveled to outback town to speak with stakeholders
- Members of the community confronted the Minister over their concerns over student welfare
The group, made up of parents and former students of Walgett Community College, says an independent investigation is essential to finally ending student violence and poor academic performance, as well as the constant turnover of principals and staff. .
They held up signs with messages such as “United Walgett stands, divided Walgett fails” and “Lack of knowledge, bypass this college”.
Community members also want zoning rules changed to allow their children to attend other schools.
“Violently assaulted” at school
Mother Lisa Smith got emotional as she told the ABC about her experiences at the backcountry school.
She said her 13-year-old daughter was “violently attacked in the school playground by another child” before a video of the incident was posted on social media.
Ms Smith said her other 14-year-old daughter’s mental health suffered badly after attending school and she was ‘heartbroken’ after being forced to send her away seven hours later to be educated somewhere else.
“We went to visit family…and my 14-year-old daughter told me that if I brought her back to this school, she would hurt herself or kill herself,” she said.
“I no longer have my daughter in my care because she can’t go to school here.”
She felt her children were unsafe in high school and wanted urgent support for Walgett’s children.
“The majority of people in this town send their children to boarding school because they can’t risk their children’s safety,” Ms Smith said.
“I’m done hearing that my daughter is resilient. I know she is.
“She shouldn’t have to be resilient to go to school and get an education. When is it going to stop?”
Low number of registrations
More than 5,000 people live in the local government area of Walgett in the northwest of the state, but only 119 enrolled in high school last year.
Only 3% of those students attended school at least 90% of the time, and only four students completed grade 12 in 2020.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell held a closed meeting with Department of Education staff and stakeholders on Wednesday evening, which was followed by a meeting with four community members.
Ms Mitchell spoke with the small group of protesters outside the school about their concerns and planned to meet the police and local council today.
Going to “traumatic” school
Former student Felicity Forbes attended the community meeting to tell the minister what it was like to experience a violence-triggered ‘lockdown’ at Walgett Community College.
The 16-year-old studied at home via distance learning after dropping out of school due to the negative impact on her mental health.
“During the first week of Year 7, I had my first panic attack,” Felicity said.
“A student grabbed a stick and smashed a window to reach another student.”
The student spoke directly to Ms Mitchell at the protest, asking her to let her walk the 150-mile round trip to Lightning Ridge High School, after her application was rejected in May.
“Studying at home is self-isolating,” she told the ABC afterwards.
“I’ve definitely fallen into some kind of depression a couple of times because I don’t talk to anyone.
“I’m alone. I lost connection with all my friends.”
Felicity added that she and her sister couldn’t do the work they were given at the start of distance learning “because it was things that we didn’t even learn because this school didn’t let us. did not learn”.
The teenager said children deserved to feel safe at school.
“No child should go through this almost daily because it’s just traumatic,” Felicity said.
“You don’t want to make a child worry that they might get hurt.”
The minister reassures
Minister Sarah Mitchell reassured the community that she was invested in their children’s future and came to speak to them directly so she could understand the issues.
“I know there’s a long history at school,” she said.
“I know there are a lot of views in the community about what works and what doesn’t.”
Strengthening TAFE’s partnership with the school to improve employment prospects and student engagement was among the options the minister was exploring.
“I’m going to catch up with some of my colleagues about my visit next week and think about how we can make some of the things people are asking for happen,” Ms Mitchell said.
“I certainly promised everyone I met yesterday that we will get back in touch and continue to work with them and see what we can do in terms of improvement and suggestions put forward.”