NSW Labor has attacked the government for its response to mould-related health issues at a school in the state’s north-west, and suggested it tried to cover up its inaction.
- The school has been closed since November 2020 due to health concerns.
- A response to a question in Budget Estimates has revealed the Department of Education knew of the issue in July.
- Labor argues some of the health issues could have been prevented.
The Minister responsible, however, has hit back, accusing Labor of politicising the issue.
Wee Waa High School has been closed since term four 2020, after several staff and students fell ill with symptoms akin to mould exposure, including headaches, respiratory issues, and rashes.
New information supplied in response to questions raised in NSW Parliament Budget Estimates, said the Department of Education knew of the issue months before it moved students and staff off the site.
“A staff member at Wee Waa High School lodged an incident report in response to ill health perceived to be caused by mould exposure,” Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said in response to parliamentary questions on notice from Labor.
“There were further reports in July 2020 and the Department prepared advice for the Minister in late August 2020.”
Labor’s Education spokesperson, Prue Car, said it was unacceptable the government did not act sooner to close the school.
“It took more and more people getting seriously ill, and some even having to be treated at hospital, in order for the government to act,” Ms Car said.
“Either way it’s a terrible outcome for the community,” she said.
Minister defends action
Ms Mitchell confirmed that 28 students and 23 staff became ill between August 1 and November 30 last year.
She said she had always followed the advice of independent hygienists and health experts.
“The advice was to lock those buildings off and close them off, move students to other areas of the school site where there weren’t any symptoms being displayed.
“There were demountables brought on to the high school site.”
No health monitoring
The answers also reveal the government has not carried out any medical assessments of students and staff.
“The Department of Education has been in collaboration with Hunter New England Health in planning a health monitoring study,” Ms Mitchell said.
Ms Car called on the government to “figure out quick smart” how to monitor the ongoing health impacts.
“It’s like getting blood out of a stone, getting information out of the government on what’s happened,” she said.
Ms Mitchell, who lives in nearby Gunnedah, said the department was pressing ahead with plans for a new school.
“I’m not prepared to take any chances when it comes to the health and safety of our students and staff,” she said.