Opinion: Removal of school gate at Alphington Grammar puts child safety at risk

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By Sarah Baker *

In Greek mythology, the goddess Artemis is the protectress of children. In the real world, that role is played by parents. When the young are at risk, it’s up to mothers, fathers, teachers and legal guardians to act.

As I write this column, Yarra City Council is pressing ahead with an ill thought out plan that will endanger the lives of school children at Alphington Grammar in Melbourne’s northeast. Although it is a non-denominational independent school, the school has been established by the Greek community and is underpinned by its Hellenic values of courage, wisdom and justice. 

The Council has removed a gate at the entrance to the school leading to a redundant piece of Old Heidelberg Road, thus allowing strangers to access a thoroughfare that cuts through the middle of Alphington Grammar where students play and move continuously between buildings for specialist classes and activities. 

READ MORE: Alphington Grammar School seeks to resolve dispute with Yarra Council ‘peacefully’.

In justifying the gates removal to reinstate public access after 70 years, the Council said locals have demanded better access to Darebin Creek and that the Council was under significant community pressure to do so.

The problem is it seems nobody from the Council bothered to inspect the site before approving this short-sighted plan. If they had, they would have seen that no such access exists without going through and onto school property. The abandoned and unkept remainder of the road leads to nowhere but school ovals. What makes the decision even more absurd is that the community, Vic Roads and the State Labour Government have already agreed that Old Heidelberg Road is not a suitable access point to the bike path and reserve and have also publicly agreed to fund an access point at Farm Road just nine houses to the south of the school boundary at a cost of $9.1 million. 

READ MORE: Alphington Grammar School escalates dispute with Yarra Council over gate removal demand.

The Council unanimously voted last year to reopen Old Heidelberg Road.

Since reopening the road, parents and staff have reported seeing cyclists and runners enter the school area only to discover it’s a dead-end without access to the bike trail, with many people now querying why the decision was made when the only place they can access is school grounds. 

That may sound innocent enough, but young children take risks. They don’t always check to see if someone is running or cycling toward them before running across a road, especially if that road has never been open to such traffic during their lifetime.  

There is also a risk that child sex offenders and individuals subject to domestic violence orders will enter school grounds now the gate isn’t there to stop them, which prevents the school from being able to verify their status and intent. 

If that doesn’t ignite your inner Artemis, I don’t know what will.

School community rallies against the Council’s demands.

The death of a child who was hit by a car near the entrance to the school still haunts the school community. If that could happen before the reinstatement of public access to a redundant piece of Old Heidelberg Road, then what tragedy might befall our youngest in the school community should motorists drive through and skaters, bike riders and e-scooters all be permitted to enter Alphington Grammar. This will then lead to potential legal implications such as public liability, motor vehicle and work cover claims.

READ MORE: Alphington Grammar school races to overturn Yarra Council’s gate removal demand.

Our principal, Dr Vivianne Nikou, has thrown her support behind our campaign to change Council’s mind. Almost 3,000 people have signed our change.org petition in its first weeks.

We can’t afford to wait for the next accident to happen before acting. We also can’t afford to put the safety of teachers and staff at risk should tragedy strike. We must convince Council to reverse its decision and restore the school gate.

To the parents of Alphington Grammar and the broader local community, I urge you to embrace your role as protectors and protectresses of our children.  

*Sarah Baker is a mother of a child at Alphington Grammar and a Senior Associate at Shine Lawyers.

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