Australia’s largest Islamic school defiant after funding cuts

The last day of the school term is usually a cause for celebration, but for parents at Malek Fahd Islamic School in Sydney’s West, uncertainty remains.

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 “I’m just upset about the students and how they’re feeling,” said mother Kiran Abid Roy.

“Last night a girl almost had an anxiety attack in front of all the parents.”

On Monday, Malek Fahd lost an appeal to have $19 million dollars in federal government funding reinstated, after it was found to have failed to comply with financial transparency measures in the federal Education Act.

The school has lodged an application with the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, but a request for a stay, to allow funding to continue during that process, was denied on Friday morning.

“I’m just quite frankly flabbergasted that the government hasn’t given [the school] the opportunity it needs, just a short time more to put the place into shape,” said Rick Mitry, Malek Fahd Islamic School’s lawyer.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils runs six schools across the country. Malek Fahd and the Islamic School of Canberra have both had their federal funding permanently cut, after a government audit found they failed to comply with Commonwealth regulations. A decision about the future funding of four other AFIC schools will be made on April 11.

Malek Fahd was found to be operating for profit and is now working to prove its independence from AFIC. Although it’s a private school, Commonwealth funding accounts for more than 60 per cent of Malek Fahd’s funding.

Keysar Trad is the newly appointed treasurer of the Australia Federation of Islamic Councils and said AFIC has complied with government requests.

“There had been some wrongdoings, AFIC acknowledges the wrongdoings and AFIC did everything from this end to satisfy the Minister for Education,” said Mr Trad.

If Malek Fahd is forced to close its gates, 2400 students will have to be absorbed into schools in the local area.

In a written statement today, the school’s interim board said it would re-register Malek Fahd as an existing entity to secure the “best chance” of continued funding. It said the school will continue to operate next Term and “will be working hard during Term 2 to address outstanding issues and, ultimately, satisfy the Commonwealth that funding should be restored.”

The Commonwealth Department of Education and Training said it’s working to ensure those impacted by the funding decision receive appropriate support.

On Thursday night two emergency meetings were called by Sydney’s Malek Fahd Islamic School – one for its interim board, and the other for parents to elect a group that will liaise with the board and address concerns about the school’s future.

Mon Jamal has five children who are all students at the school.

“I have to tomorrow run and find five different schools for five different kids,” he said.

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“They’re as confused as me, maybe even more. They want to do their homework, but they think, ‘We’re going to go to another school.’ I never thought a school this big with 2,400 students would get closed down. This is a joke.”

At last night’s parents meeting former Malek Fahd teacher Sam Halbouni – who has since helped form a Crisis Council at the school – appealed to the crowd of around 100 people to play an active role in securing a future for their children.

“This is your opportunity to take a stand,” he said. “You will be liaising with the interim board, so let’s take this opportunity…but remember, we don’t want to be complacent.”

The meeting went on to nominate around a dozen candidates, before voting for up to six that will meet with the interim board next week.

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