Second emergency evacuation at Aurukun school

Originally published on EducationHQ (May 25 2016)

Teachers are being evacuated from the remote Queensland community of Aurukun for the second time, after children as young as six tried to steal a car and threw rocks at houses and security guards.

Cape York Academy staff will be evacuated over the next 24 hours and will not return for at least six weeks, following several incidents on Wednesday morning that occurred close to where teachers were staying.

Police Commissioner Ian Stewart said they appeared to be targeted attacks.

“There were at least two, probably three incidents that caused some concerns,” Stewart said. “And they revolved around a group of young people trying to steal a motor vehicle and throwing rocks at security guards and throwing rocks at buildings.”

While charges are yet to be laid, Stewart said principal Scott Fatnowna’s house was either targeted or was nearby.

“It is my clear understanding that the teachers fear for their personal safety and it is that reason why they have decided finally to come out on this occasion and my understanding is they are likely to stay out for several weeks,” he said.

The small town of Aurukun made headlines earlier this month when Fatnowna was threatened with an axe and carjacked.

The incident saw more than 20 teachers evacuated, the school closed for five days and additional police rushed to the town to address the situation. The principal and his wife were later carjacked again by “a group of armed teenage boys” brandishing machetes after a majority of staff returned to the town.

On May 10, Queensland Education Minister Kate Jones released a statement saying she was “deeply concerned” about the situation.

“We will review the situation prior to reopening the school,” she said.

She added that she had directed the education department to urgently coordinate the temporary relocation of Aurukun school staff and “ensure they are fully supported during the period of school closure”.

Jones also said at the time that the education department would undertake an immediate review of its infrastructure and security in Aurukun.

But many Indigenous elders, including leader Noel Pearson, claim they have been requesting help in the area for months. Women in the Cape York community were reported to have written letters “begging” for assistance from the government as far back as December.

Pearson said Aurukun teachers were “dedicated” to improving the lives of their students and deserved to be protected.

“That is why I took the decision to recommend to the Queensland Department of Education that they be removed from the community until the security situation is reviewed and we can assure those dedicated teachers and their safety is guaranteed by those of us who benefit from them working there,” he said.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has promised to travel to the town for an emergency meeting to assess the situation. She said it is the priority of her government for the children of Aurukun to have access to education.

“The safety of our teachers is essential, as is the safety of all community workers in Aurukun,” she said.

“Today we have made the serious decision to withdraw the teachers until the end of this school term. This will be effective immediately.”

She said a decision around when the teachers will return to the community would be made closer to the start of the new school term in July.

However, Aurukun elders have lashed out at the decision to shut the school, accusing the State Government of abandoning its 300-odd students.

In a statement to the Courier Mail, the Wik Women’s Group accuses the government of letting itself be controlled by the actions of 10-15 lawless teenagers.

“Solving a problem with 15 disengaged youths by disengaging another 300 children from school is a recipe for disaster,” they said in a statement.

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