About 100 people assembled at Graham Green in Dulwich Hill on July 15 for a press conference and rally organised by the Public Service Association (PSA) and Families Against Disability Discrimination (FADD) to protest against the NSW government’s cuts to Student Learning Support Officer (LSO) positions. LSOs help students with disabilities in state schools.
PSA general secretary John Cahill called on the state government to reconsider its decision. He said: “We want the government to guarantee that no school or student will suffer as a result, and that there be no job cuts across the board.”
Former LSO Ann Attwater said the officers provide a range of support roles in the classroom. They help with personal care, health care, playground supervision and school excursions. She said LSOs have knowledge and expertise that are essential for students with disabilities in mainstream schooling.
Kate Lee from FADD said the total cuts across the state will be $4.4 million, which is much less than the $5.6 million budget for communications and advertising of the NSW Department of Education.
Lee also told the crowd that Huskisson and Drummoyne public schools have already had their funding restored due to parent opposition. These schools are located in seats held by Liberal Party MPs.
Susie Newman, from the Dulwich Hill High School of Visual Arts and Design Parents and Citizens Association, said more than 270 schools are about to have their funding cut. She said many of the schools hardest hit have a high proportion of Aboriginal students: “Glebe Public School is set to lose $56,000 in funding, Alexandria Public School will lose $75,000 and Guys Public School which will lose $118,000. Is this closing the gap?
“If kids with disabilities are not funded adequately now through the school system, the health system will be picking up the tab later which in the end will be more expensive.”
Michelle Sutton from the Katoomba Parents and Citizens Association has been told by the principal that even though her autistic son will be supported, the support will not be to the same standard as before. She said she is concerned that autistic children, like her son, may be easy victims of playground bullying if adequate playground supervision is lacking.
John Gauci, a teacher at Taverners Hill Primary School and a member of Inner City Teachers Federation, commended the role LSOs play to help integrate students with disabilities into classrooms.
He said the cuts would not only affect individual students with disabilities but would also disturb other students in the classroom, as well as teachers and families. He called for the restoration of the original funding.
FADD says it is concerned that the cuts contravene the Disability Discrimination Act, which requires “schools to treat students with disabilities on the same basis as students without disability”. This could provide grounds for a legal challenge against the NSW government.
For a list of affected schools and to sign an online petition click here.