Thoughts schools opened too soon post Cyclone Marcia

CRAZY, madness, disgusting and confusing.

That is how some parents described schools opening the Monday after Cyclone Marcia swept through the region on February 20.

And it seems some Education Queensland staff felt the same.

A consultation draft report by the Department of Education, leaked to The Morning Bulletin, describes how staff felt unsupported, uncertain and confused with the decision to open schools so soon.

The report states Cyclone Marcia affected a large number of schools across a large geographical area and required the support of school, regional and central office staff, school communities and community organisations, stakeholders and partner agencies to support students, staff, schools and communities to recover.

While there was significant commitment and effort among school staff, their communities, the regional office and Building and Asset Services to get schools ready to open on Monday, February 23, some school staff and parents considered their school not to be safe.

Inconsistencies between a directive for schools to open and documents relating to school closure processes is another of the issues being addressed.

The review found the regional director Wayne Butler (now retired) was based in Mackay and not in Rockhampton to lead the response and recovery effort.

Sixteen Central Queensland schools remained closed on the Monday, the majority on the Capricorn Coast.

Only five out of over 1000 enrolled students attended one high school in Rockhampton that opened on the Monday.

Some principals reported their views and preferences for closure and re-opening were not taken into consideration.

On March 27 following a Teachers Union meeting, director general of the Department of Education and Training, Dr Jim Watterston, was quoted saying if principals had really felt confident to be the gatekeeper of when schools opened, then a lot of the schools wouldn't have opened so early and that's where the failure was.

Minister for Education Kate Jones later released a statement saying schools were best placed to make the right calls regarding school closures and openings following natural disasters.

The draft report, collated from reviews held at workshops, an online survey and one-to-one interviews plus data analysis, identified that staff were also personally affected and needed time to attend to their own affairs.

The report stated 205 department facilities had identified damage, with an estimated value of $4.44 million from over 1000 work orders raised.

The loss of telecommunications, internet and power for extended periods across the region was said to have complicated the response and recovery, causing significant communication difficulties.

Recommendations from the report include existing emergency management materials be reviewed and redesigned, a Regional Response Team be led by a senior executive on the ground as close to the impact of the event as possible and consideration given to the decision making responsibilities, particularly the role of the principal and regional director, given greater clarity.

There was also mention of a need to better manage and monitor staff fatigue.

A final report is expected to be released once considerations have been given to responses to the draft document.


16 Central Queensland schools remained closed on Monday 23 February

Some school staff and parents considered their school not to be safe for reasons such as no power, air-conditioning, telecommunications, water, toilets, tuckshop and unsafe trees in playground areas

Staff were personally affected and needed time to attend to their own affairs

Schools able to delay opening until Tuesday February 24 reported that the extra day was valuable in giving time to ensure that the school was safe for reopening and to work with staff to ensure appropriate strategies and staff coverage were in place to support students

Many schools reported low attendance rates for the first week following the cyclone.