By Di Quin
MELBOURNE — Support for the occupation of Richmond Secondary College is gaining ground despite a state Equal Opportunity Board decision to dismiss a claim made by two male students that the Kennett government's decision to close the school last year would amount to discrimination.
Messages of solidarity have come from unions, other schools and community groups following the board's decision. Whip-arounds at job sites and other workplaces have resulted in generous financial support; water, electricity and gas unions have guaranteed not to cut supply despite recent government threats to do so.
The Victorian Trades Hall council has twice passed resolutions supporting the school and promised to provide an official picket line if police attempt to evict the occupiers.
Three school representatives met with senior Directorate of Education staff on June 16, the first meeting in 184 days of occupation.
Although no agreement was reached, the directorate asked the occupiers to provide a list of added uses for the school. The school could be used as a combination secondary/TAFE campus or as an education centre offering adult and secondary education.
Steven Jolly, spokesperson for the school, sees this as an encouraging sign and believes it is a significant backdown by the Kennett government.
Meanwhile supporters of the college are putting the finishing touches to a Handbook for Occupation. This is a step by step guide to occupying and managing schools and saving them from government closure. It could encourage more schools to resist decisions to close them. The Kennett government closed 55 schools last year, and many more schools are believed to be facing closure this year.
The state conference of the ALP on June 19 refused to commit a future Labor government to reopening any schools closed by Kennett.