Call for meeting over school gastro


PARENTS are demanding a meeting with Red Hill Consolidated School principal Leanne Marshall over the serious gastro outbreak among pupils and staff just before the Easter holidays.

More than 100 pupils and six staff were affected and the school was closed a day earlier than the scheduled break.

Balnarring primary school, a few kilometres from Red Hill Consolidated, has also had problems with contaminated water recently.

A parent said junior students were directed to drink only from tanks supplying the grade 5-6 area.

The problem was resolved only after a five-month battle with the Education Department, the parent said.

Red Hill parents now want to know why the school was not closed earlier, after it ran out of water.

They say children were unable to wash their hands after using the toilets – which could not be flushed – and the school was not providing water to the students.

Gastroenteritis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites and fungus and transmitted through improperly prepared foods, contaminated water, or close contact with an infected person.

One Red Hill parent claimed a group was told the school would not spend money on what “falls out of the sky”.

“Should a school be operating without water?” she asked.

“We were not informed,” another said. “There is a serious ongoing communication problem at the school. We are fed up with not being kept informed.

“They will be hoping it has all gone away over the holidays.”

The school is due to reopen on 11 April.

The News was unable to contact Ms Marshall.

Parents say they learned through unofficial channels that the school tank water level was allowed to drop below the required 50 per cent and that pumps and filters had not been adequately maintained.

Reasons given for the lack of water ranged from a plastic bag being stuck in the piping to an electrical fault.

Later, an Education Department official assured them the water was “fine”.

The Education Department’s senior media advisor Alex Munron said on Friday that the school became aware of water flow problems after school hours on Thursday 17 March.

He said debris was found blocking a pump valve and causing the low pressure and the water was shut off for 10-20 minutes the following morning to repair a water pump.

“That same day, following calls from parents, the department contacted the school to ensure there was water available for students. By this time water flow had been restored to the entire school,” Mr Munro said.

“The school’s water level is regularly monitored and as a precaution water was carted in, but at no time did the school run out of water.”

The school water supply and food preparation were prime suspects.

Mornington Peninsula Shire issued a statement saying the departments of education and health were working with it “to investigate and respond to [the] outbreak”.

It continued: “As of Tuesday 22 March, the school reports that there were over 106 pupils and six staff absent from the school due to illness.”

The outbreak highlighted “the importance of hygiene measures like hand-washing,” the statement said.

Once authorities were satisfied there was no further risk, “the school will communicate with the community to confirm arrangements for the normal commencement of schooling after the holidays”, the shire statement said.

A parent said the school needed to be accountable for its spending decisions.

“Half the school has recently been painted, the staff room has a new kitchen, there are new flat-screen TVs everywhere, but it seems provision of something as basic as clean water for children has been a low priority.”

First published in the Southern Peninsula News – 5 April 2016


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