THE only school in Australia that supports children from rural and regional areas with severe learning disorders has been shut by the NSW Government, abandoning hundreds of the state’s most disadvantaged children.Palm Avenue School, on Sydney’s northern beaches, was awarded more than $300,000 in federal stimulus funding a month before NSW health chiefs decided to sack 15 staff and terminate its highly sought-after programs.The Northern Sydney Central Coast Area Health Service has admitted it is yet to work out how country students will gain access to the literacy and language programs that have been created by a specialist team of teachers, psychologists and speech pathologists for 35 years.About 100 students who have been referred to Palm Avenue’s unique residential program, where year 6 students live on campus for up to eight weeks, have been told there is nowhere else in NSW they can go.A further 134 students on the outreach program will also be left without treatment until at least the middle of next year.Evidence suggests students with severe learning disorders are more likely to leave school early, end up in the criminal justice system, become pregnant or suffer psychological problems such as depression.The school, on land with ocean views bequeathed to the health service in the 1920s, provides early intervention for students to boost their reading and comprehension skills.After years of varying professional opinion and exhausting all the special education options in Tamworth, Angela Brown’s son Simeon , then 9, was diagnosed with dyslexia at Palm Avenue’s Dalwood Assessment Centre. He was prescribed a program that led to his reading levels increasing 313 per cent in less than two years.Mrs Brown said the decision to close the facility was short-sighted and a waste of years of expertise. ”It is astonishing to us that it can be closed so quickly and without a well-planned replacement facility.”Palm Avenue was awarded $50,000 for repairs to walls, roofs and stormwater in May and $301,000 for a new classroom under the federal schools stimulus package.The Greens MP John Kaye said shuffling students into a psychiatric facility with highly disturbed children was inappropriate. ”These young people belong in a school, not a hospital,” he said.The Opposition education spokesman, Adrian Piccoli, said: ”Families who rely on Palm Avenue School will be devastated at this closure and will be disappointed that the stimulus funding was not spent more effectively on services for some of the state’s most disadvantaged kids.”A NSW Department of Education spokesman said the funding would be transferred to the Children’s Hospital at Westmead, which runs a live-in school for students with psychiatric illness and severe behavioural problems.
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