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School ready to move on

LAUREN PRIESTLEY
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2014
St Heliers School
Lauren Priestley
STANDING UP: Elizabeth Caughey and Rachel Trimble say the majority of parents at St Heliers School support religious education.

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The St Heliers School community is fed up with the bible studies debate.

The issue became headline news after two parents complained to the Human Rights Commission about religious education sessions at the school (East & Bays Courier, January 29).

The board signalled it would change the classes to before or after school but this month parents were told the opt-in sessions will be held at lunchtime, starting on May 5.

Parents say there are valid reasons for the change.

The programme provider, the Churches Education Commission, initially indicated it could hold a session outside school hours but later said it was not possible.

The classes will now be treated the same as any extra-curricular activity at the school.

St Heliers woman Rachel Trimble says most parents just want things back the way they were.

"There's more than 700 kids in the school and just a small percentage of parents have changed it for everyone."

The mother-of-five has been a parent at St Heliers School for 20 years and says criticism of management is unfounded.

Only a decade ago the school was struggling with 400 students and now it is flourishing, she says.

"We've been in the paper before - but for amazing things.

"That's why this is so frustrating. Why are we in the spotlight?"

Mother Gill Rea says the school community needs to accept the decision.

"The classes have been brought back to a time that suits everyone. That really was the school coming half-way to please both parties."

Parent Elizabeth Caughey says the school will lose out if the value-based classes were taken away.

"What parent could really object to half an hour of incredible positive energy for their kid every week?"

Another mother, who asked not to be named, says parents are too afraid to go up against the Secular Education Network (SEN).

The lobby organisation was asked to represent parents who oppose religious education at the school.

"I think that they're just using St Heliers School as a grandstand or a vehicle to promote their message.

"I just want them to leave us to get on with it."

SEN spokesman David Hines says three parents have made formal complaints but there were a dozen who came forward with issues about religious education.

"The main objection to lunchtime is it still puts peer pressure on the kids to go. It's good that it's out of class but it's still not complete separation."

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Board chairman Garry Ivill says the lunchtime classes do not reneg on the Human Rights Commission mediation the school went through.

There has been widespread consultation about the programme, he says.

"There's not just two sides to this thing - there's about eight.

"It's just taken up a huge amount of school time. We've listened to everyone, the decision has been made and we're well and truly ready to move on. We want to get back to the core focus of the job."

The outcry has prompted other New Zealand schools, including Glendowie Primary, to look at the issue.

Glendowie held a school survey in 2013 and more than 75 per cent of families voted for a religious education programme at the school. The school board decided this month that it will hold classes run by the Churches Education Commission during school hours.

- East And Bays Courier

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