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Martins Creek Public School will stay open next year

RELIEF: Gina Goulder pictured with son George Allingham, 10, said news the school would stay open would be an “enormous relief” for the students. “The department has viewed them as collateral damage. It’s really hard for young children to live with uncertainty, it’s been horrible.”MARTINS Creek Public School has been saved from its expected closure, butmother Gina Goulder has questioned the timing of the reprieve.

Upper Hunter MPMichael Johnsen announcedon Tuesday, one week before the end of term, thatthe government had “listened to the views of the local community” andreversed its decision to close the school of six students at the end of the year.

The school will stay open to at least 2019.

“I really am gobsmacked,’’ Ms Goulder said.“I cannot begin to imagine this, I’ve forgotten what it’s like not to live under a cloud like this.

“What a hellish two years the Department of Education and Communitieshas put us through, only to announce this at the very last minute.

“It’sa personal punishment.”

Ms Goulder attributed the government back-flip to Christian Democrat MP Paul Green and Greens MP John Kaye, whospearheaded the recent Upper House inquiry into the closure of public schools.

The inquiry made10 recommendations in October,includingthat Martins Creek be kept open to allow student Hayden, 8, who has Down syndrome and complex needs, to finish his education.

Mr Green said he could empathise with Hayden’s story.

Hisbrother had meningitis when he was a young boy and he saidhis life had been “fragile”.

“This change [the slated closure] could blow this little guy’s world apart, given the fact that he’s thriving,” Mr Green said.

“I don’t think there’s been a better win in my political life than this one.”

DrKaye agreed the victory was “terrific” but saidit was a “shame that so much political effort had to go into rescuing one school”.

“This should not have been a debate in the first place,” Dr Kaye said.

“The NSW government needs to take up the advice from the inquiry to make sure all school communities everywhere, not just those able to mount a political campaign, are dealt with fairly.”

The inquiry found the DEC needed torethink how it assessedwhether to close schools and to amend its protocols to ensure its staff undertookgenuine consultation with communities.

It also recommended the government refer for independent investigation complaints relating to both Martins Creek and Wollombi public school.

The Newcastle Heraldreported in November last year the DEC had discussed closing Martins Creek as early as 2013.

Public Schools NSW director Andrew Eastcott was revealed to have emailed a colleague in February 2014 saying “unless a great storm strikes,the school will close’’, at the same time the DEC was telling the public a decision had not yet been made.

The DEC advised the Herald in December last year the school would shut at the end of 2015.

Mr Johnsen said the DEC would arrange to meet with families in the light of Tuesday’s decision to discuss the ongoing educational needs of their children.

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