22 August 2019

Community outcry at plan to fence Miles Franklin school grounds and oval

| Ian Bushnell
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Where the proposed 2.1-metre steel fence would go. Image: Supplied.

Miles Franklin Primary School in Evatt has been accused of a land grab and wanting to lock out the community by supporting a plan for the grounds, oval and adjoining green space to be fenced.

It is unclear where the idea originated, with some saying the Education Directorate approached the school and the Directorate and the Minister saying the proposal came from the school’s P&C.

But the proposal for a 2.1 metre high, black steel palisade fence around the entire school grounds has provoked a backlash from residents who rely on the oval and green space for recreation, and split the school community.

Residents view the plan as taking away green space that is used regularly before and after school and on weekends, and as being inconsistent with the Government’s own planning policies.

The Education Directorate is assisting the school with community consultation on the fence which the P&C says is needed to ensure the safety of students and staff and protect the school from vandalism.

The Canberra Liberals raised the issue in Question Time in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday, with Education Minister Yvette Berry saying no decision had been made and it was a matter for the community, although it looked likely the oval would remain unfenced because of the Evatt community’s concerns.

One local resident who is also a school parent said Miles Franklin had many out-of-area families who would be unaffected by the oval’s enclosing but residents would be facing a steel fence only metres from their front doors and the appeal of the space would be lost.

“Children would be playing in enclosed prison like a fortress,” she said.

Many school parents believed the grounds were safe with few reported incidents and no major roads backing on to it.

The parent said the fence would also prevent children walking across the oval to and from school and create unsafe narrow laneways along the fence line.

“It would be quicker to drive to school than walk,” she said.

Resident Roslyn Emmerick said the community would accept a fence around the school buildings but the current proposal was excessive.

“It would be taking in green space directly behind my home that the school never uses,” she said.

Ms Emmerick’s children do not attend Miles Franklin but use the oval, and while gates are proposed these would be locked during school hours.

“It’s not just a straight 9-3, they have an after-school program until 6 pm. If you’re locking out the community until 6 pm it’s a huge swathe of area,” she said.

The next green space was more than a kilometre away, and much of the nearby housing was medium density townhouses or units.

Ms Emmerick said the fence proposal contradicted the ACT planning strategy of Livable Canberra and was inconsistent with what Government had done with other school ovals in Belconnen.

The Education Directorate said the Government had not made a decision to install the proposed fence nor had there been approval for any parts of the school and surrounding areas to be fenced.

“Any decision to install a fence will also need to be consistent with the Government’s policy about making sure school facilities are available to the whole community,” it said.

Consultation will continue until 30 August and feedback can be provided to ICWDirectorsOffice@act.gov.au.

Community members are urging residents to contact their MLAs, and email the principal and the Directorate.

Miles Franklin is an International Baccalaureate school and considers itself a school of choice.

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Don’t you love the way with all these school fences the Government and the Education Department put the volunteers on the P&C on the front line. To get a fence from the Government, they require the P&C to give approval… this is not consultation but putting the poor P&C volunteers in the veto position so everyone blames them and the Government washes it’s hands. This is so wrong. The Government should ask for the opinion of the P&C but they should make the final decision and stop hiding behind hard working volunteers.

Gabrielle Sullivan9:30 pm 22 Aug 19

Obviously fencing the community oval as well as the school is total overreach, but I don’t even support a fence around a school unless their is a clearly proven need for it. What, exactly, is the evidence to prove any safety concerns are real? Even if this evidence exists (which should be made public before any decision is made), is there a less divisive/restrictive way of addressing these concerns? The fence will be there long after the current students leave. This is an important decision, not to be rushed. Safety is good. So is freedom.

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