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The Age

Locked-out Northland students to try again

Date: 26/01/1994
Words: 669
          Publication: The Age
Page: 4
Former Northland Secondary College students will try to re-enrol at the school tomorrow after being locked out yesterday in a State Government move to secure the site.

A former teacher, Ms Anne Clarke, said that when she went to the school about 7.30am yesterday she saw two men with drill guns changing the entrance locks.

``There was a Victorian Public Service car and a police van," she said.

Ms Clarke said she asked one uniformed man outside what the men were doing and was told they had been directed ``to secure the site".

``I said, `Is that to keep us out?' and he said, `a bit of both I guess'," Ms Clarke said.

She alleged that up to six uniformed men were at the site, including police and security guards, but a police spokesman denied police were involved in the lock-up.

A spokesman for the Education Minister, Mr Hayward, said there had been a ``small police presence". He said the locks were changed by contractors for the Directorate of School Education.

``The decision to secure the site of the former Northland Secondary College was taken by the director of school education, Mr Geoff Spring," he said.

Earlier, Mr Hayward said the interests of the former Northland students would be best served by enrolling in adjacent secondary colleges where he said they would get a high-quality education.

``We should not forget that in those adjacent secondary colleges there are large numbers of Koorie students who are getting an excellent education," he said.

The Premier, Mr Kennett, said protests over the closure of Richmond Secondary School last year and the occupation of the school by students, teachers and other protesters had prompted the Government move.

A school activist and parent, Mr Gary Foley, said that the Government had acted illegally in preventing access to the school and the students were seeking legal advice. He said about 70 students had been prevented from enrolling in classes.

Mr Foley said the students had not given up plans to continue attending the school while their fight to retain Northland was still before the courts.

``The classes will resume for those kids who have nowhere else to go," he said. ``If we have to do it in a park we will."

On Monday, a Supreme Court judge, Mr Justice Beach, overturned orders forcing the Government to reopen the school. But the two Aboriginal students who lodged the complaint will appeal the decision to the Full Court of the Supreme Court.

Mr Justice Beach ruled that an Equal Opportunity Board finding last December, that the closure of the school discriminated against Aboriginal students, was wrong in law. He said his decision was based on questions of law.

An affidavit obtained by `The Age', which was tendered during the Supreme Court hearing, has detailed incidents of racial taunts and other acts of discrimination experienced by Aboriginal students who were forced to attend other schools after Northland closed in 1992.

It was alleged that in one incident a former student, Ms amantha Sinnappan, was verbally taunted by her teacher at another school. The affidavit said the teacher had used words to the effect of, ``What is the point of coming to school? See that tree out there? Why don't you go and hang youself".

According to the affidavit, Ms Sinnappan left the school after the incident and attended informal classes at Northland.

A spokesman for Mr Hayward said while there was no formal racial discrimination policy in schools there were complaint procedures students could use.

The spokesman said any complaint of discrimination would be fully investigated. He said a policy about racial discrimination in schools was being developed but no timetable had been set up.

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