Parent irked at bible-lessons 'shortcut'

MARIKA HILL
Last updated 05:00 28/04/2013

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A frustrated parent says some schools are illegally cutting the school year short by up to 20 days because of closures for bible lessons.

The government watchdog is investigating an Auckland school for allegedly chopping too many school days for the religious instruction.

It follows a random test of 20 schools last week by the Sunday Star-Times that found half of these schools were breaking the law by closing too often.

Auckland parent Jeff McClintock said he laid a complaint with the Ombudsman in November after Red Beach School failed to deal with his concerns over the year being cut back by about four weeks.

"There's probably a whole bunch doing this because hundreds of schools hold bible classes."

Red Beach School had been closing in the afternoon for religious lessons, shortening the afternoon to 1 hour and 40 minutes, he said.

Schools must be open for teaching for 192 school days, or 384 half-days, in the calendar year.

To be considered legally "open" for a full day, a school must teach for 2 hours in both the afternoon and morning sessions.

Neither the Red Beach School principal nor the board of trustees responded to questions.

However, in what could be a test case for schools, the ombudsman has demanded answers from the school.

McClintock, who opts his daughter out of bible lessons, complained to the school in March 2012.

The school responded by shuffling the timetable so the bible lessons were legally held in the morning. However, he said other classes were then put into the afternoon session.

"They addressed it for my daughter's class only and ignored all the other classes."

He said he told the Red Beach Primary principal of his concerns, but was disappointed by the lack of response.

"The Ombudsman is going to judge on the matter and let me know. They're going to rule on whether Red Beach broke the rules or not."

The Ministry of Education occasionally becomes aware of schools closing excessively following complaints, but does not routinely audit school years.

It keeps no figures on the number of schools failing to open for the minimum requirement.

Last week, parents spoke out of the frustrations of juggling leave and childcare costs as schools shut their doors.

A number of schools were found to be closing early too often, with teacher-only days, union meetings and parent-teaching meetings often to blame.

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