Latter day tragedy being played out High St HQ site can’t deliver all these kids’ must haves

May 18, 2018

Echuca Specialist School student Ben O'Dea successfully makes his father, David, laugh for the camera.

BEN O’Dea reaches over to tickle his father.

The Echuca Specialist School student has been asked to pose for a photo with his dad, David.

Naturally, the 11-year-old student is over the moon about the opportunity.

Ben loves his dad and wants to make him laugh.

And it works — together, father and son, throw their head back in fits of joy.

Ben has what he wanted. He is having a ball with his dad, just like they always do.

‘‘He’s a very social little person,’’ Mr O’Dea said.

‘‘He’s really blossomed since having his feeding tube out. He used to get sick all the time but he’s just a joy to be with now.’’

For Mr O’Dea, and every other parent at ESS, it is a tragic set of circumstances that his son — or any of the children — cannot thrive in facilities they desperately deserve.

Instead, Ben has to remain at the Echuca Specialist School’s current location on 238 High St because the school missed out on funding to move into Twin Rivers.

It’s enough to turn Mr O’Dea’s smile upside down.

Until, at least, his son can get what he deserves.

And that’s an education in a safe and hygienic facility — a world away from where is now.

‘‘Back then we thought Ben would be in the new school by grade four and he is a grade six now,’’ Mr O’Dea said.

‘‘The first time we genuinely expected the money ($11 million) would come was last year.

‘‘Originally the schools were going to be combined then it was changed to a stage one and stage two process and we were going to be part of stage two.

‘‘The stage two money was supposed to come through last year and for whatever reason it didn’t.

‘‘It was disappointing then but for that to happen again this year, it’s just a disgrace.

‘‘Some of the schools who have got this funding are embarrassed and don’t know what to do with it.’’

Mr O’Dea lives in Moama and has been associated with the school since Ben, who has Down syndrome, started in 2012.

‘‘When he started school he had esophageal atresia ... which meant he had a feeding tube until he was seven or eight,’’ he said.

‘‘As a parent when your kid is starting at a special school it’s a fairly daunting prospect. It was suggested I get involved in the school council and I decided to do that because I thought it was a way for me to be involved.

‘‘It is an amazing school community. Given the circumstances the staff and aides works in they are just outstanding.

‘‘They go above and beyond what you would do in a normal job.’’

Ben was five when he started school and loves it.

‘‘I think he is just starting to get the idea now that when he gets a day off school it’s a special day and he is happy about it,’’ he said.

‘‘For most of his school life he’s been disappointed on a Saturday when he doesn’t get to go.’’

Mr O’Dea, who is the school council’s vice president, said the school needed to move into new facilities.

‘‘What’s happened with the present government is a disgrace,’’ he said.

‘‘Our local member (Peter Walsh), who is obviously the other side of politics, mentioned it in question time last week which is terrific but I would like to see it made much more public and more of an issue state wide.

‘‘The present government won’t care how disgusting we think it is because they don’t have a candidate in this area.

‘‘We want the school funded. At the very least we want our local member to come out and say quite publicly ‘If we’re elected we will fund it’.

‘‘It’s a political reality that if your local member is not in government you tend to miss out.

‘‘If you’re going to use special needs children as a political football that just goes beyond what anyone would think is reasonable.’’

Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh says he is ‘‘absolutely committed’’ to providing a modern learning environment for Echuca Specialist School students and staff.

‘‘From my perspective the fight is far from over ... achieving the very best outcome for students and staff at the Echuca Specialist School will continue to be a leading priority for the Murray Plains electorate, as the Nationals continue to develop our policies in the lead up to the 2018 state election,” he said.

Mr Walsh said he was proud to have stood with the teachers, parents and students of the school to fight for the best start in life for the next generation of community leaders.

‘‘The Nationals in government were absolutely committed to the vision of an Echuca School Regeneration Project,’’ he said.

‘‘We funded the purchase of the site, allocated $200,000 for planning and committed $25 million to build this unique new learning environment.

‘‘But Daniel Andrews smashed that vision when he was elected in 2014.

‘‘He slashed $14 million from the $25 million budget to merge Echuca West and South primary schools, leaving the staff and students of the Echuca Specialist School out in the cold.

‘‘The most disappointing part of it all is that the philosophy of a combined school with a strong foundation of a cohesive culture inclusive of students with a disability has been compromised.

‘‘It’s an absolute disgrace.’’

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