School restarts religious lessons

ROB KIDD
Last updated 05:00 16/03/2014
Roy Warren
NO DEAL: Roy Warren says the school's decision to start lessons during the lunch break is "unprofessional and incompetent".

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A group of Auckland primary school parents who took concerns about religious teaching to the Human Rights Commission are outraged Christian lessons will restart next term.

At the start of the year, Roy Warren, whose 5-year-old son attends St Heliers School, originally complained to principal Craig McCarthny about the 30-minute sessions running during school time, but the school refused to stop them.

Warren and another parent made submissions to the Human Rights Commission, which oversaw a mediation session between the two parties in January. It was agreed the school would not run the half-hour lessons during school time, a result heralded as a triumph by Warren and the Secular Education Network which backed him.

Two weeks later, the school sent a letter to parents saying the "opt-in" religious programme would either take place before or after school but in their most recent newsletter sent home last week, the plan had changed. "The best solution is to offer the programme during one lunchtime a week," it said.

Warren said the response was "unprofessional and incompetent" and believed the school had broken its prior agreement.

Lunch was still part of the school day, he said, and his concerns remained that his son could still feel excluded if he did not take part with the other children. "The programme is divisive and still creates a distinction of ‘them and us' based on religion," Warren said.

St Heliers School board of trustees chair Gary Ivill said it was not a case of the school reneging on the agreement.

He said the programme provider - The Churches Education Commission - had indicated a session outside school hours was a possibility but later said it was not..

The school then consulted the Human Rights Commission which, Ivill said, was happy a lunchtime slot would not contravene children's rights.

"They have told us they're more than happy with us making that change . . . I think we're in a good position," he said.

Ivill conceded the decision was never going to please everyone but pointed to a survey taken by the school asking whether families were for or against religious classes. He said nearly half of all families responded and 68 per cent supported the continuation of the Christian programme.

Secular Education Network spokesman David Hines said he and more than a dozen others had met for a celebratory meal in St Heliers at the result of the mediation but those people were now "livid".

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The school plan to start the once-a-week programme, dubbed "Champions", from next term.

The curriculum will be provided by Cool Bananas, whose website said they "creatively teach values from a Christian perspective in a fun and interactive way".

Hines called it "not evangelical . . . more like soft-sell Christianity" but contended it was still a concern. He confirmed Warren had contacted the Human Rights Commission to state the issue was now "unresolved".

Warren had also lodged a complaint with the Education Ministry over what he said was the school illegally running its religious programme up until 2011.

- Sunday Star Times

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