School changes mind on religious studies

Milson School have reviewed the introduction of Christian bible studies following a parent's complaint and will no longer hold the lessons in school time.

In a letter sent to school families today, signed by Milson School principal Vanessa Pitt and board of trustees chairwoman Sarah Spillane, parents were advised of a change in the time of the Christian Religious Education (CRE) lessons, which will now take place before school beginning at 8.20am.

Milson School mother Belinda Lewer wrote a letter of complaint to the school last week on the advice of a Human Rights Commission mentor, with a view to making a formal complaint with the commission if the times of the originally proposed lessons were not changed.

The school had proposed to hold the half hour lessons every Friday in three time slots, before school, where the lessons would be accompanied by a Weetbix breakfast, and at 9.05am and 9.40am.

Not all classes at the school were participating in the lessons, but students were able to attend if they chose.

Ms Lewer, who has two children at the school, called news of the change of heart "fantastic" and praised the school for their swift response.

"I never imagined I was going to get such a good result and that's just wonderful. Overall they are a really good school and I can't say anything negative in regard to any of the other things, it's just this topic in particular that has caused issues."

Ms Lewer raised concerns about discrimination arising from the ''opt out'' process, and the reduction in education time for her youngest son, aged 6, whose class was among those taking part.

She also questioned the addition of breakfast with the before-school session, saying it amounted to ''bribery''.

The new single lesson was available for all pupils to attend, and parents have been asked to fill in an ''opt in'' form by March 7.

The revised before-school lesson plan will no longer include breakfast.

The lessons start on March 14, and will be reviewed by the board of trustees after 10 weeks.

The letter went on to say that the board were ''reluctant'' to disregard the opinions of the 64 per cent of parents who responded positively to a survey sent out by the school regarding the implementation of a religious programme being held during school time.

''With our school's "core business" being that of teaching and learning, and with our recent success in raising 

student achievement levels across all National Standards areas, the board believe that by not acting on the concerns raised, our school's resourcing, time and attention is at risk of being diverted. The board also feel that this matter is best addressed directly by the Ministry of Education and the Human Rights Commission working together for a sensible outcome.''

Options considered included an ''opt in'' lesson starting at 9am, but the board were advised that they could not offer that choice.

If CRE was to be held in school time, legislation required parents to ''opt out''.

Closing the school for 30 minutes while the lessons took place was not considered a ''feasible option''.

Parents have been asked to fill out an ''opt in'' form by March 7.

Manawatu Standard