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Battle to stop religious lessons in school won

DANIELLE STREET
Last updated 05:00 14/02/2014

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A father who took a state school to the Human Rights Commission about its religious instruction is pleased the lessons will now be held outside of normal school hours.

Roy Warren complained to the commission that the 30-minute sessions for year 1 and 2 students at St Heliers School were discriminating against non-Christian families (East & Bays Courier, January 29).

Parents had the right to opt-out of the weekly sessions, however Mr Warren did not want to isolate his 5-year-old son.

The case went to mediation late last month, but the school board decided to shift the lessons before the mediation process was complete.

The programme, run by Christian Religious Education, will be taken off the normal timetable and offered outside of class time.

"It's great," Mr Warren says. "It would be ideal if they got rid of the programme outright, but it's good for the people who still want to take part."

At least a dozen other parents showed support for dropping the lessons after Mr Warren went public with his cause and one mother filed a second complaint to the commission. Mr Warren hopes the result will encourage like-minded parents to challenge other schools on the issue.

"I think it sends a strong message to other schools that might be running the programme. It says that it's OK to drop the programme and it's OK to rethink things," he says.

St Heliers School board of trustees sent a letter to parents on February 10 advising that the review of the Christian Religious Education programme had been based on several factors including an increased workload for teachers to meet National Standards requirements and the growing diversity of the population.

Principal Craig McCarthny says the school felt the time used for the religious lessons was needed for regular classes.

"Taking all the factors into consideration I think the board has come up with a good solution that will suit the majority of people."

In a statement, the Churches Education Commission says the decision is disappointing and is the result of a small number of parents putting massive pressure on the board through the media.

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- East And Bays Courier

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