A 'Save our Outstation' campaign is currently underway by the parents and families of geographically isolated children who attend the Capricornia School of Distance Education in Emerald, to allow them to use onsite privately funded accommodation facilities.
For over 25 years, the Department of Education has supported an on-site camping facility at the Emerald campus for families and students to attend face-to-face mini schools each term, utlising two facilities called The Outstation and The Shed constructed largely through the efforts of family fundraising.
In February 2020, the Department seized and blocked usage of the camping facilities due to fire safety and workplace health concerns.
Now, families that paid for them can no longer use them for dormitory-style accommodation and meals during mini-schools and are forced to compete for accommodation for a week at motels in peak tourist season, which as well as being much more expensive, is splitting the school community up.
CSDE parent Elizabeth Burnett helped launch the 'Save our Outstation' campaign on July 7, to regain access to the facilities.
Ms Burnett said the CSDE P&C has created a Joint Development Agreement, which would allow the family-funded facility to be covered and managed by the CSDE P&C and would be fully shared with the whole school community.
"Despite established approval and understanding of the usage of the buildings, and even department policy about community use of facilities, no access will even be allowed to rectify small safety issues identified and to resolve the situation," Ms Burnett said.
"The Department of Education won't respond to the P&C association's request for a JDA or a mediation."
Ms Burnett said families are now forced to source accommodation in Emerald to attend their school.
"These families are struggling with inconsistent availability throughout the year due to tourism, seasonal farming and mining activity and costing upwards of $1200/week, an unaffordable expense for all families," she said.
"Additionally, families of the school communities find themselves divided across town and face-to-face social and support opportunities with students and peers becoming increasingly difficult."
In 1997 targeted fundraising began for 'The Outstation', with $113,346.00 donated by school families and the wider community, funding the entire build.
Department stands firm on decision
A spokesperson for the Department of Education said the Department made no apology for doing all it could to protect staff, students and school communities.
"The overnight onsite accommodation facilities at Longreach and Capricornia Schools of Distance Education do not meet building, fire safety and workplace health and safety standards," the spokesperson said.
"The Department and the principals of Longreach and Capricornia Schools of Distance Education principals are currently working together to identify alternative suitable and sustainable options for mini schools and overnight accommodation for students and their families.
"The department is committed to ensuring all students, no matter where they live, have access to a range of learning opportunities."
On-campus buildings complied with fire standards
Former CSDE principal Ian Bielenberg, said he was "shattered" by the fact that the shed accommodation is no longer available for families to use.
"The attendance of students at mini-schools is an essential and critical part of a successful distance education program," Mr Bielenberg said.
"These buildings complied with the fire standards when I was principal.
"There is a solution and the Education Department should bring these facilities up to standard just as it brings other outdated buildings up to scratch."
Palaszczuk government "must provide certainty"
Local member for Gregory Lachlan Miller said the Department of Education had no understanding about isolation, and how distance of education is run in rural and remote Queensland.
"These mini schools are absolutely important for these kids and these parents to have that connection through the school," Mr Miller said.
"The department keeps blaming the closure on safety or fire concerns and what I've been saying to Minister Grace is let's fix this and put the improvements that we need to in.
"My concern is the Department of Education and the minister have just walked away from it and are not going to solve it."
Queensland LNP spokesperson for Education Dr Christian Rowan said the Palaszczuk government must provide certainty for students and families who attend Schools of Distance Education in Queensland.
"The loss of access to on-site camping facilities for students of the Capricornia School of Distance Education not only affects the rights of children to access quality education, but also has the capacity to affect the social and emotional development of students, particularly given the hardships already faced in relation to isolation and drought," Dr Rowan said.
"The Palaszczuk government must get their head out of the sand and work constructively with parents and the school community to resolve the educational jeopardy and financial penalties that isolated students and parents are now facing."
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