Rural community in northern Victoria fights to save its only school after teacher pulled from classes
Lilly Binion was excited to start fourth grade at Devenish Primary School in a rural community in north Victoria, some 140 miles north of Melbourne, but her first day of school was far from her expectations.
Key points: The Department for Education and Training is considering closing Devenish Primary School due to low enrollment. Five students had hoped to enroll, two more than last year. The students realized that there would be no teacher on the first day of the school year
On arrival she was met with officials from the Department of Education and Training who said they would not be providing a teacher and therefore there would be no classes.
“[Lilly is] so disappointed,” said her mother, Jenny Binion.
“She doesn’t understand why she can’t go to school. The children think that they have done something wrong and that is unacceptable. It is not right.”
Ms Binion was aware that last year the school board had submitted an application to close the school due to declining numbers, but the department had not signed off on the closure or finalized its decision.
“There is no gray area. If the school is not closed, it is open. You must provide a teacher for my daughter and for the other four children who are ready to start,” she said.
Ms Binion said there was also no communication before arriving that first day to inform parents there would be no teacher.
Sign-in not possible
Only two students were enrolled last year when the department said it was considering closing the school permanently.
More than 430 people signed a petition to keep the school open, which has managed to recruit four more students for the year.
They also arrived in uniform on Monday, but the department does not recognize them as registered.
Community members came to the school on the first day to learn that there was no teacher. (Supplied: Chris Gregory)
In a statement, a department spokesman claims “there are no teachers currently assigned as there is only one enrollment for this year”.
“The school is working with this student to find suitable enrollment for him at a nearby school,” the spokesman said.
School board member Chris Gregory, whose daughter hopes to start at the school this year, said the department is refusing to accept her paperwork.
“They had their registration forms on Monday, but [department officials] weren’t at all interested in adopting them,” he said.
“What disappointed us was that last year they were happy to run it for two students. We’re coming with five this year and they just don’t want to open it.”
Ms Binion said it was a shame.
She was offered compensation to take her daughter out of school and transfer her to a new one, but Ms Binion said she has no plans to do so.
“I’m not interested in monetary compensation; I want my daughter to go to a school she loves,” said Ms. Binion.
“As soon as I sign her off, they’ll put a padlock on the gate because they see her as the only student,” she said.
“That’s not fair to Lilly or the other students.
“I’m not going to unsubscribe them; they have to kick them out.”
The nearest school is a 60km round trip from the city, which Ms Binion said is not feasible without moving to a new home.
She said it now also affects her ability to work, as someone needs to be home to look after her daughter during the day when school is down.
Advantages of a small school
Lilly moved to Devenish Primary School after the effects of the pandemic began affecting her learning outcomes.
“She went to a bigger school but after COVID she fell back drastically and we just struggled to catch up,” Ms Binion said.
Devenish Primary School in north Victoria has been open for almost 150 years but is now facing permanent closure. (included)
“She needed a smaller setting to get more personal help, and just in the few weeks she was there last semester, she made leaps and bounds.”
Ms Binion was concerned that if she missed more school as a result of the department’s actions, Lilly’s educational outcomes would continue to be impacted.
She said there was no shortage of teachers after speaking to many in the area who would raise their hands for the job.
Mrs. Binion will continue to send her daughter to school every day in the hope that a teacher will be provided.
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