School axes religion classes after parents complain

An Auckland school has removed religious education classes from its school day after complaints from parents.

Religion will now be taught outside school hours for St Heliers School pupils who choose to attend.

The change followed two complaints to the Human Rights Commission (HRC) and one official complaint to the school from parents in the past two months.

The Christian-based lessons discriminated against non-Christian families and should not be part of a secular school programme, the parents argued.

St Heliers School issued an email to all parents yesterday advising of the change.

Roy Warren, one of the parents who complained about the classes, said he was pleased with the result, and he hoped other schools would follow suit.

"I think there's a pattern that may well continue, not just with other schools in our local area which may run the programme, but hopefully in the wider New Zealand community," he told Radio New Zealand this morning.

"I think the schools that continue to run programmes like this need to take notice and think about what they're doing."

Mr Warren earlier said he had been overwhelmed by the support shown by other parents of the school, and hoped the result would give courage to parents in schools throughout the country to challenge such programmes.

The Secular Education Network said it was "over the moon".

Public relations officer David Hines said he was not surprised with the result as there were early signs the school was taking the complaints seriously, and the protesters were a "very persuasive group".

The Christian classes were taught to Year 1 and 2 pupils for three terms and involved storytelling, songs, drama and crafts.

Children who opted out were sent to other classrooms to work.

Mr Warren and another parent Melissa Muirhead both chose to keep their children in the classes because they did not want them to feel isolated from their classmates.

The complaints to the HRC claimed the classes were discriminatory by excluding children from their friends on the basis of religious belief for the period of the class, making the children feel ostracised and different.

The HRC complaint had gone to mediation, and a decision was not expected for some time.

- Patrice Dougan of APNZ 

 

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