Outrage in Yass at the closure of the town’s Catholic high school is continuing, with a parish priest accusing a Catholic Education Commission official of defaming him and a walk out by commission representatives from a hostile public meeting.
The Mt Carmel School and wider Yass community gathered on Thursday night to hear from about the archdiocese’s decision to close the secondary school at the end of this year, which will lead to students crossing the border to Catholic schools in Canberra from 2015.
The Yass Tribune reports that despite urgings by School Board chair Lara Kirk for everyone to listen to one another and have an open but civilized discussion, emotions were obviously running high and there were passionate outbursts from time to time.
Parish priest Father Mick Burke outlined the history of Catholic education in Yass, going back some 160 years, and said he was very disappointed that there hadn’t been consultation with the community before the decision was made.
He could barely contain his outrage, as well, as he outlined what he thought were quite possibly defamatory comments made about him and principal Gaye McManus on Canberra radio earlier that day, by CEC chair Daryl Smeaton. He said Mr Smeaton had said he and Mrs McManus were to blame for parents not knowing the closure was imminent, which he said was not at all true.
He later publicly asked Mr Smeaton to apologise for his radio comments and Mr Smeaton refused, saying "I look forward to your defamation suit, Mick."
Those assembled listened as CEC director Moira Najdecki explained the process the CEO and CEC had gone through to come to a decision about closing the high school. She said a report in 2012 had said that the secondary school should remain open, but that they would keep a ’watching brief’ on enrolments.
She said in February this year enrolments had fallen again, by 25 per cent.
She said it was not just a matter of year 6 students not coming into year 7, but high school children leaving as well.
"I’m responsible for overseeing 27 schools, to make sure each is resourced properly.
"We looked at educational viability, financial viability and alternative Catholic schooling options."
She said it was costing the CEO $270,000 per year to keep the high school open.
Year 10 student Lauren Harris asked if they had considered what would happen to the teachers who wouldn’t have a job after this year.
Ms Najdecki said all permanent staff would be offered redeployment.
Asked what parents could do to keep the school open, Ms Najdecki said nothing as "the decision was final".
CEC chair Daryl Smeaton was urged to get up and speak to the group, which was now becoming more vocal. He did so reluctantly, saying he had been told not to speak.
"I understand the pain," he said.
"This is the fifth school I’ve been involved in to close... It’s the worst thing. But the decision has been made.
"There is no chance at this stage for the decision to be taken off... it’s happening," he said.
Mrs Kirk lost her patience with Mr Smeaton when he said he wasn’t "management" and therefore didn’t have the authority to change the decision.
"Well if you aren’t management and have no power, sit down. You’re no good to us," she said.
The three Canberra visitors, Ms Najdecki, Mr Smeaton and CEO Head of School Services Helen Casey, then walked out of the meeting angry and upset.
The meeting was gradually wound up, with parents voting to continue to fight to have Archbishop Christopher Prowse reconsider the decision to close Mt Carmel High School.
Mrs Kirk also announced that students in years 5 - 10 will stage a peaceful protest next Wednesday, by having an excursion to Canberra to march across Commonwealth Bridge to the Archbishop’s residence and picnic on his lawn.
"It’s a way of just saying we’re here!" she said.