THE mother of a child at Rye Primary School is “shocked” that over several years her children had been told to pick up rubbish in the grounds “with their bare hands”.
“To discover that my children completed litter duty tasks without being provided any safety equipment, like gloves or tongs, has angered me greatly,” Lisa Stone, of Rye, said.
“It would only take a sharp piece of hard plastic or glass, a discarded apple core from a child who has the flu – or worse still – a discarded needle to injure or seriously affect the health of my child.”
Ms Stone said she also contacted Rosebud Primary School and was told that it, too, asks pupils to pick up litter in the school grounds with their bare hands.
“Eastbourne Primary School stated that they don’t ask students to do rubbish duty, but if they did would make sure students had gloves on.”
Rye principal Jackie Annable, who took over in Term 3 last year, said pupils had been asked to pick up papers for five minutes over two mornings in the lead-up to Anzac day. She said this tied in with the learning topic Sustainability and Environment.
“That’s the only time it’s been done this year,” she said. “It was purely papers and nothing else. The children were supervised by a teacher and asked to wash their hands afterwards.”
She said buying 400 pairs of rubber gloves “wouldn’t be too eco-friendly”.
Ms Stone says the practice of using children to pick up rubbish at the school is not new.
“We moved to the peninsula two years ago. I have had three children enrolled at Rye Primary. My eldest daughter, who is now in Year 7 at Rosebud Secondary, picked up litter three times during her time at Rye. My son picked up rubbish twice and my youngest daughter, who is still at Rye Primary, has picked up rubbish three times in her two years there.
“The point is that, whether a child has been asked to pick up rubbish once, twice or 10 times, they are being told to do so without being provided with gloves or tongs. That is a safety issue.”
Ms Stone said a Mornington Peninsula Shire health officer had told her there was no harm in picking up “some paper rubbish or an apple core”.
“This is ironic when you consider that the council’s clean up team will always be seen picking up rubbish on our streets with gloves and tongs in hand,” she said.
“Are we then to assume that, according to the council, their workers’ health is more important than that of our school children?”
Ms Stone said she could find nothing in the Education Department’s schools’ policy directing schools to provide a duty of care by providing safety gear to pupils collecting rubbish in school grounds.
“In turn, all they advised was that I should approach the principal of my child’s school to discuss this matter. If I were to do this I would have no doubt that the answer would be that the children are told to wash their hands afterwards. This just isn’t good enough.”
Ms Stone said in cleaning the beaches excursions children always wore gloves. “Are we to just gamble with the health of our children in the naive belief that the rubbish left in school yard playgrounds is less hazardous?”
“It is ignorant to believe that the Rye Primary School grounds are secure enough to stop unsavoury people from leaving smashed glass, beer bottles or syringes in the yard. The fact that people have entered the school grounds during the night, climbed on the school buildings and sprayed graffiti on the walls is proof in itself.
“Are our school children even aware of what hazardous litter looks like? I don’t believe that any school is staffed sufficiently for individual supervision of each child during litter duty.
“It would cost the school very little to purchase buckets and tongs for students to use when asked to pick up rubbish. Why not approach the local businesses who may wish to donate these items to schools to ensure the safety of our school children?
“I think collecting litter and keeping your school free from rubbish is an important way to teach children independence and pride in their environment. But I am not willing to risk my daughter’s health in the process.”
Ms Stone now sends her daughter to school equipped disposable gloves and a pair of tongs in case she is told to pick up rubbish.