Friday morning forum supports need for Murrumbateman public school

Murrumbateman business owner and mother-of-four Roslyn Pengilly with son Timothy, whose special needs would be better supported at a local campus. Photo: supplied

Murrumbateman business owner and mother-of-four Roslyn Pengilly with son Timothy, whose special needs would be better supported at a local campus. Photo: supplied

Schools are "the social glue" that hold communities together, said Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly in Murrumbateman on Friday morning.

He was joined by NSW Shadow Minister for Education Jihad Dib at a public forum to discuss the need for a public school in the town.

Many parents in the population of just over 3000 presently face a dilemma of choice between Yass and Canberra, especially in travel times.

Their children have to make either a daily three-hour commute to the nation's capital to attend school or a 40-minute diversion to Yass.

Mr Dib, a former high school principal, said he believed the state government was "hoping that the problem will go away".

"They haven’t taken the time to meet with anybody. I don’t know whether they’re trying to avoid it as much as they haven’t taken it seriously enough.” 

He pledged to press the government to act on the need for a public school in Murrumbateman, which he said had been promised for many years.

Parent shares her duress

Roslyn Pengilly's four children travel to four different campuses in Canberra, including her youngest son Timothy, who has special needs.

Timothy has been diagnosed with sensory defensiveness, which means he is easily overwhelmed by loud or unusual sounds and physical contact.

This makes the 90-minute bus trip each way tougher for Timothy than most, complicated by his need to have touch therapy every two hours.

Ms Pengilly aired her concerns at the public forum, held at Murrumbateman Preschool, one of two prepatory schools in the rapidly growing community.

Her daily stress coordinating work and family needs would be significantly lessened by access to a public school in the village, she said.

Ms Pengilly, a business owner, said the touch therapy was called therapressure protocol and best administered to Timothy by herself.

The therapressure protocol requires her to brush Timothy’s skin for three to five minutes at a time to reset his sensory system.

“We have to do that at least every two hours for six weeks,” Ms Pengilly said. “If you miss a session, then you have to [restart] the six weeks. We noticed, just in doing it for five days, that his behaviour was completely different. He was really calm. Situations would come up ... and he wasn’t melting down.”

The therapy is not an option while Timothy is at school in Canberra and Ms Pengilly runs her full-time business out of Murrumbateman. 

Ms Pengilly had asked whether Timothy's school could allocate a therapist, but was told it was not a feasible option, she said.

Border town blues

Many parents at the forum argued the state government didn't understand Murrumbateman’s dilemma as an ACT-NSW border town.

Government authorities have claimed that Murrumbateman would not have the enrolment numbers to justify a new public school.

But 2016 Census statistics challenged that assertion: residents aged 14 and under comprised nearly a quarter of the Murrumbateman population. Mr Kelly said official numbers were close to 650 primary school-aged children. 

Anecdotally, a second pre-school campus has recently opened, and developing housing estates continue to sell and fill.

Planning and pressure

Yass Valley Council general manager David Rowe was also at the forum and said the council had asked the government about opening a public school. 

“We have actually been talking to representatives of the Department of Education as part of this overall planning exercise," Mr Rowe said.

"So we’re hoping in the next couple of years to have something planned.”

Mr Kelly closed the forum and expressed optimism it could spark renewed pressure on the state government to act. 

“We’ll rattle the bars to try and get them to do something,” he said. “[Schools are] the social glue that hold these communities together.”