Parents stage snap protest to call for asbestos removal in classrooms

Claire Halliday
Claire Halliday
The discovery that the dust was asbestos only came after an alert teacher wiped the particles from the classroom's surfaces before the material was sent for testing.
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Parents have taken school safety matters into their own hands after asbestos was discovered in the ceilings of a school in the Brisbane suburb of Logan.

A snap protest organised by the scared parents has seen the Rochedale State School students being supervised in the school library after they refused to allow their children to return to classrooms they describe as a “ticking time bomb’’.

The Queensland Department of Education said it was “confident every available measure has been undertaken to ensure these classrooms are safe for reoccupation’’, including stripping the affected classrooms and removing carpets.

The snap protest was held outside school grounds on Monday, 15 April, to warn other parents of the risks.

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Raining down asbestos

Adam Littlefield is one of the worried parents and said that asbestos dust began spontaneously raining down on desks in his son’s classroom last month.

The discovery that the dust was asbestos only came after an alert teacher wiped the particles from the classroom’s surfaces before the material was sent for testing.

Parents claim the issue is caused by work to isolate the asbestos not being done according to standard protocol, which the Department denies.

“Nothing was disturbed, it was just from vibrations from the children moving around,’’ Mr Littlefield says.

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“Kids whose parents are refusing to go back are getting supervision but aren’t getting taught the curriculum. We’re talking about two classrooms’ worth of kids who were (potentially) exposed – there were 14 positive tests in half a dozen classes.’’

Dust on windowsill prompts teacher’s concerns

The school was made aware of the outbreak on 11 March when the teacher raised concerns about dust on windowsills.

Subsequent testing of carpets, lights, walls, windowsills and classroom equipment, including projectors, confirmed asbestos in the rooms.

Classrooms housing young students in Years one-three were relocated to alternative spaces as a temporary measure while cleaning took place.

Mr Littlefield says some school parents took it upon themselves to ring asbestos experts after being told by the school that asbestos had been found.

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He says the classroom ceiling had not been properly sealed, with gaps around fans fixed with masking tape or sealant that left perforations still visible, with the ceiling cavity left open.

Although Ms Littlefield says an email was sent to parents, it only mentioned “infrastructure” issues, without mentioning the asbestos problem.

“Our children were already at school by then. It wasn’t until Tuesday that they told us 14 positive tests were returned from several classrooms.’’

A Department of Education spokesman said qualified trades and occupational hygienists were used.

“The Department has obtained clearances on three occasions for safe reoccupation,’’ he said.

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“Ongoing air monitoring in these classrooms and physical inspections of the ceilings will continue, until the scheduled removal occurs in the Christmas holiday period, in order to provide an additional level of assurance to the school community.’’

Parents call for immediate remediation

But for the frustrated parents who led yesterday’s protest, such responses have not been good enough.

“They’re trying to make out like it’s not a big deal. They’re fixing this as it happens,’’ Mr Littlefield says.

He says he will meet with Shadow Education spokesman Dr Christian Rowan at state parliament today, 16 April.

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Claire Halliday has an extensive career as a full-time writer - across book publishing, copywriting, podcasting and feature journalism - for more than 25 years. She lives in Melbourne with children, two border collies and a grumpy Burmese cat. Contact: claire.halliday[at]