New special school for Cairns?

QTU activists campaigning for a better deal for students with disabilities in far north Queensland have made a breakthrough, securing a promise of a new special school in Cairns.

Cairns is the only major metropolitan centre in Queensland that does not have a special school, which has  put a severe strain on the capacity of a number of local schools to provide services to students with disabilities.

Currently, students with extreme special needs are dispersed around the area, enrolled in special education programs in local schools, none of which have the resources to provide specialised programs for a small number of very high-need students.

For over a year, special education teachers have been lobbying politicians in an attempt to ensure that students, parents and teachers get access to a special school in Cairns serving the whole far north region.

That goal came a step closer recently, when the Labor Party promised to build a special school in Cairns with the capacity for up to 125 students. It would cost $32 million, and if Labor were to win the election, construction would start in 2013 and the first enrolments would be due in 2014.

DET has identified Trinity Bay State High School as a preferred site for the new special school while Bentley Park College is another possible site. Depending on the result of the election, community consultation would be undertaken this year to seek the views of the local community on the final location.

The announcement has wider significance. Other than replacement facilities, there has not been a new special school built in Queensland for a very long period of time and this announcement could signal an important change of policy orientation and climate.

The QTU will be approaching the LNP to ask them to make a corresponding commitment, so that whoever forms Queensland’s next government, students with disabilities in the far north will get the support they need.

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 117 No 2, 16 March 2012, p13