Brindabella Christian College parents have described an “excruciating” standoff between the Board and the rest of the school community that’s resulted in the departure of the fifth school principal since long-serving head Elizabeth Hutton stepped down in tense circumstances in 2015.
Region Media has been told that close to two dozen school staff, including a number of people in senior executive positions, have left the school and that the Parents and Friends Association has ceased to function.
Parents say that a P&F Facebook page that was being used as a means of communications has also been suspended after it became impossible to run the page without threats of interference.
The point of conflict appears to be a breakdown in communications between the school community including staff and the four-person Board, headed by long-serving chair Greg Zwajgenberg.
“I think the Board can’t work with anyone,” says a parent who asked not to be identified. “All we hear is that there are a handful of people trying to bring down the school and destroy it, and we’re told that’s related to freedom of religion and Christian education.
“I’m a Christian and I chose this education for my children, but freedom of religion and persecution has nothing to do with the problems at the school. That’s totally delusional.”
Matters came to a head this year with proposals to extend school hours, a plan that parents claim was presented to them directly by the Board without the agreement of the school principal and has now been abandoned.
More than 300 parents gave feedback on the issue via a Facebook page including a public survey. Over 120 parents gathered at a P&F meeting at the end of last term with a list of questions for the Board concerning the school’s governance, but parents say there has been no response to those concerns to date.
In a statement to the school community, principal Christine Lucas said that her decision to resign was not made lightly, and had never been her intention when she took the role.
“I had always intended to complete the full term of my contract however recent governance issues have caused me ongoing and increasing concern. After a long period of reflection, the seeking of wise counsel and countless hours of prayer, I know I cannot continue to lead the College with the current level of operational interference,” Ms Lucas said.
In 2017, principal Bruce Handley took the Board to the Fair Work Commission after being sacked by them. The dispute apparently centred around a four-page letter sent to parents at the time of the same-sex marriage debate under Mr Handley’s name, urging them to vote no at the plebiscite.
But Mr Handley and his family distanced themselves from the letter, which many in the school community believe he did not write. At the time, parents were told by the Board that “the devil has his sights on Christian education”.
Parents say that sentiment in the school community has now overflowed. “It’s impacted on staff welfare and our beloved teachers who have left their classrooms.
“That affects our children, and we are really struggling to communicate clearly how much of a mess this all is,” said a parent.
Brindabella Christian College is a private not-for-profit company with a board of four. Region Media has been told that the Board’s constitution enables it to refuse applications to join the Board without providing a reason, limiting multiple attempts by parents to effect change. Some parents are seeking legal advice concerning the Board’s constitution.
“We have explored all avenues,” a parent says. “But we’ve got nowhere to go. It’s a no-win battle unless something shifts.
“People are at their wits’ end, we are losing lovely families from the school and teachers we all care about. It’s disgusting. People are just crushed.”
Region Media has approached Brindabella Christian College Board chair Greg Zwajgenberg for comment.