Christian classes shifted

23:00, Mar 04 2014

A Palmerston North school has backed down on the introduction of Christian Bible studies and will no longer hold the lessons in school time after a parent's complaint.

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

Belinda Lewer wrote a letter of complaint to the school last week and had planned a formal complaint to the Human Rights Commission if the times of the lessons were not changed.

Christian religious education is an instruction syllabus organised by the Churches Education Commission.

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 Weet-Bix breakfast, at 9.05am and 9.40am.

Not all classes at the school were participating in the lessons, but pupils 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 its swift response.

"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 the reduction in education time for her youngest son, aged 6, whose class was among those taking part.

The lessons were "against her conscience", and she had opted to keep her son out of the class, but he was upset at the thought of leaving his friends to attend a school values class.

The new single lesson will be 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 said the board was "reluctant" to disregard the opinions of the 64 per cent of parents who responded positively to a survey sent out by the school on implementing a religious programme 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 was advised it could not offer that choice.

If Christian religious education was to be held in school time, legislation required parents to "opt out".


Manawatu school principals are on the fence about the value of faith in schools.

Principals spoken to by the Manawatu Standard said the decision to include religious education was up to parents, but they were consulted extensively.

According to Official Information Act figures, as many as 35 Manawatu state schools were teaching Christianity-based learning last year, and numbers remain steady this year.

A number of Manawatu schools subscribe to the Christian Religious Education syllabus, which requires teachers to be trained to deliver religious education, while remaining within the New Zealand education curriculum.

Some brought in teachers through the Churches Education Commission (CEC).

Russell Street School principal David Reardon said about two-thirds of the school roll signed up to the school's Christian-based 30-minute course, run on a Friday.

The other third did a "Friday Explorers" programme.

Ross Intermediate School principal Wayne Codyre said it was not a state-funded school's responsibility to provide religious instruction.

Cornerstone Christian School, an integrated school, had a booming roll, with families moving to the area specifically to attend the school because of its faith-based offerings.

"As a Christian school we teach it all the time, holistically throughout the day and with a dedicated time slot for the first 20 minutes of every day," principal Peter Ferrar said.

Sanson School scrapped its Bible in Schools programme this year following consultation with parents.

Bunnythorpe School offers an optional religious education programme, and the children who opt out spend time in the library.

Bainesse School offers a 30-minute Bible in Schools programme on a Wednesday afternoon called "Choices" with the option to opt out.

"It's a right of some people to have their children's horizons widened," principal Andrea Harnett said.

"But the kids enjoy learning about the values and singing," she said.

Manawatu Standard