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Home Issue 11 NT Government closes Aboriginal school on 'false information'

NT Government closes Aboriginal school on ‘false information’

By JULIUS DENNIS

The spokesperson for the Yipirinya School board elected at its AGM in November 2020 says “the board was dissolved because of false information” given to NT Licensing in a complaint lodged in April 2020.

In the events that transpired, Glen Sharpe says the government “just came in and took over like coo.”

He says that there was no interaction with the board prior to the decision being made.

“They should have talked to the board and had a meeting and some consultation.”

That board consisted of Mr Sharpe, Harold Furber, Dawn Ross, Mica Fleming, Conrad Wiseman, Ameilia Turner and one other individual whose name was not provided.

The board was dissolved when Margaret Fenbury was appointed as Statutory Manager by the NT Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism before a chair was elected.

Prior to that Harold Furber was the chair and Dawn Ross the secretary.

In the first on-record interview with anyone from the school leadership since the News began reporting the story in February, Mr Sharpe disputed that any decisions were ever made by Mr Furber and Ms Ross without a quorum of board members in attendance.

The accusation of such meetings are believed to be at the heart of the previous board’s acrimonious meltdown.

Mr Sharpe says: “They included the board, no decision was made without the whole board.”

As reported on Monday, members of that board recently released a document questioning the circumstances of its dissolution.

The board says the reason given was that the school was not fulfilling its constitutional goal of educational standards, despite the school passing a routine assessment conducted by the education department.

In a response to the document chronicling the board’s perspective, a DITT spokesperson told the News that “further details remain confidential while the Statutory Manager is in place.”

The board also complains that there does not seem to be any clear exit strategy for Ms Fenbury.

According to Mr Sharpe, the government believes the latest iteration of the board is not the problem, but rather boards from 2016 and prior.

Why the government would choose to step in five years later and dissolve the current board is a mystery that may only be answered when the government decides the time is right.

Mr Sharpe, who was a continuous member from the last board, says: “The board was doing all the good stuff, but they got taken down and now the kids are not going to school.”

“The board and the Northern Territory [should] work together to maybe work this thing out and put the board back in.”

Whether kids attending school at Yipirinya has anything to do with the board is difficult to say.

Even allowing for a transient roll where students may be moving in and out of town, attendance at Yipirinya school has been low.

In 2019 attendance was 34%, of which only 5% of kids were attending 90% of days or more, according to the My School website. Across Alice Springs schools, children attended class 72.3% of the time. Amongst Aboriginal students, the average attendance was 62.2%.

However, Mr Sharpe says that “kids not going to school is not Yipirinya School’s fault, it’s the parents’ fault”.

Mr Sharpe says that kids were starting to show up more consistently throughout 2020 prior to the board being dissolved, but there are no statistics available to back that up.

According to Mr Sharpe, 60% to 70% of kids were coming to school each day from a roll that fluctuates between 100 and 160.

Further muddying the water are leaked emails initially reported on in February outlining administrative wrongs at the school claiming more students on the census than were actually enrolled in the school.

The reason given for the time lapse between the appointment of Ms Fenbury and the public response of the board was “shock”.

Now willing to talk, Mr Sharpe says he is “pretty disappointed that the government has taken over”.

He thinks they should be matching the board’s move of going public: “They should be answering questions.”

PHOTO: Yipirinya School Photo Gallery website.

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