No more Bible class during school time

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 15:51 04/03/2014
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Palmerston North's Milson School has reviewed the introduction of Bible studies after a parent's complaint and will no longer hold the lessons in school time.

In a letter signed by Milson School principal Vanessa Pitt and board of trustees chairwoman Sarah Spillane sent to school families today, parents were advised of a change in the time of the Christian Religious Education (CRE) lessons. They 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.

The letter was written with the intention a formal complaint being made to the commission if the initial times for the proposed lessons were not changed.

The school had proposed holding the half-hour lessons every Friday in three time slots.

They were before school, when the lessons would be accompanied by a Weet-Bix breakfast, and at 9.05am and 9.40am.

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

Lewer, who has two children at the school, raised concerns about discrimination arising from the "opt-out" process, and the reduction in education time for her youngest son, aged 6, whose classmates would be 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 is available to all pupils, and parents have been asked to fill in an "opt-in" form by Friday.

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 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 the implementation of a religious programme being held during school time, the letter said.

"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 letter said.

"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.

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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".

- Manawatu Standard

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