School's calming proposal riles parents

EVAN HARDING
Last updated 09:25 28/08/2014
RIversdale
RACHAEL KELLY/FAIRFAX NZ

CALM STATE: The mindfulness proposal would involve Riversdale students practising mindfulness and reflecting on their behaviour for 20-30 minutes a day.

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A bitter dispute is raging in the northern Southland town of Riversdale due to the school wanting to introduce a calming technique for its pupils in the wake of bullying.

It is understood some Christian parents at Riversdale are furious the school wants to introduce the "mindfulness" technique, claiming it has Buddhism origins.

Mindfulness is a technique focused on getting a person's thoughts and emotions in a natural and calm state and in the present moment.

The Education Ministry said it had received five complaints from parents at Riversdale School about the issue and was working with the school to ensure the complaints were dealt with appropriately.

Riversdale School Board of Trustees chairman Dylan Ditchfield confirmed the school was considering introducing the mindfulness programme to its pupils for a variety of reasons, which included bullying, and he said some parents were unhappy about it.

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Bullying was no worse at Riversdale School than at any other school, Ditchfield said.

The mindfulness issue was very sensitive and people in the community were both for and against it, he said.

The school had not yet decided whether to introduce it, with a meeting on Monday night set to determine where the community sat on the issue, Ditchfield said.

Vocal opponents of the mindfulness programme were saying little when contacted this week, other than to confirm they had concerns about its introduction and were working through a complaint process with the school.

One parent said some people in the community were concerned about the education at Riversdale School and the proposal to introduce the mindfulness technique was part of those concerns.

Riversdale Waikaia Presbyterian Community Church session clerk Stephen Miller distanced the church from the dispute, saying he understood a group of parents were upset.

"It's not just Christians or people attending our church, there are others involved that are upset."

Education Ministry head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said mindfulness was a relatively uncontroversial relaxation technique, not specifically tied to Buddhism, and used widely.

"It involves focussing on the present moment. There has been growing interest from schools in the technique... schools are free to introduce the practice if they so wish."

Riversdale School's proposal to introduce mindfulness for its students would involve the children practising mindfulness and reflecting on their behaviour for 20-30 minutes a day, Casey said.

"When a school implements any change that is contentious, they are wise to consult their parent community first."

Riversdale School had considered allowing some children to opt out of the daily mindfulness sessions to do buddy reading instead, but some parents were unhappy about the amount of time this would take out of each school day.

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The ministry has advised the Riversdale School board of trustees to seek advice from the New Zealand School Trustees Association to deal with the issue, while the ministry was monitoring the situation closely.

- The Southland Times

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