Chairman regrets churchy message

Religious instruction in a North Otago primary school will be reviewed in the new year after parents complained.

The review at Oamaru's Fenwick Primary School will address ''continuing community concerns surrounding religious instruction, the roles of chaplains and some perceived conflicts of interest''.

Board chairman Damien Goodsir, who is also a pastor at Oamaru's House of Breakthrough, was publicly questioned this week for a sermon he gave saying ''sports teams ... boards ... businesses ... clubs or groups, neighbourhoods, work places, schools or churches ... all need to be infiltrated with the kingdom of heaven''.

He told the Otago Daily Times this week he regretted his choice of words.

''It's a great school, honestly, it's got great teachers, the vibe in the school is good, the kids are learning well,'' he said.

He was disappointed the school was being tarred with that message.

Mr Goodsir gave examples in the sermon of how the church had ''infiltrated'' the community by running a sausage sizzle at the Harbour Family Fun Day, organising Christmas in the Park or organising Oamaru's Easter egg hunt.

Independent school governance consultant Cleave Hay, who will conduct the review, wrote in the school's December 7 and 14 newsletters the Ministry of Education was not involved in the review.

He asked staff, parents and the community ''to await the review and desist from using social media to address concerns or frustrations''.

The issue has attracted a lot of attention on social media this week.

Mr Hay met the board and parents in November last year and the school changed its ''opt-out'' policy for religious instruction.

Parents now made a ''mandatory choice''.

Mr Goodsir said a small number of children now stayed home from school at the start of the morning once a week; and of those children at school ''just over 50%'' were enrolled in religious instruction rather than the alternative ''values'' class.

Religious instruction had been held at the school since Oamaru South and Awamoa School amalgamated in 2001, he said, and he had been a board member at the school for two years, chairman for the past year.

Mr Hay said interviews would be held at the school on February 13 and 14 next year and a report would then be presented to the board.

Principal Lloyd Bokser could not be reached for comment.

Ministry of Education head of sector enablement and support Katrina Casey said ''a small group of parents'' had included the ministry in its communications with the school principal and board.

When a state primary school was open for instruction, the teaching must be entirely secular, but schools were permitted to close for up to 60 minutes per week, and no more than 20 hours in the school year, for the purposes of religious instruction or observance conducted by volunteers, she said.

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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Rels in state schools remains mysterious. Is it overseen by Dept Education, is it 'Instruction' or stories from the Bible? The doctrine is protestant, is it also Sectarian? Do Exclusive Brethren participate? Not meant as criticism, but state education is accountable.

Hi, let me try to help. The Bible-in-Schools system offers Christian Religious Instruction (RI) in state primary schools because it's what some people want. It's up to the Board of Trustees whether a school has it and it's up to parents whether their children participate. As state schools are secular by law, they can't oversee it; it's overseen by the Churches' Education Commission (CEC), representing 16 denominations. Exclusive Brethren do not participate. The curriculum in use at Fenwick is 'Life Choices', which uses Bible stories to teach the values of the New Zealand Curriculum. So it's barely even Christian, and people still complain. :)

The CEC provides training and accreditation to the RI teachers, who are all unpaid volunteers. And BTW, Fenwick School has really bent over backwards to cater to parents' wishes, going far beyond what they legally have to do to offer an acceptable choice to everyone.

Your comments are misleading. You sound like a CEC representative. The CEC does not have any remit to "oversee" religious instruction in NZ primary schools. Although the CEC is the main provider of RI syllabus in NZ, they are not the only one. The Ministry of Education do not approve or review their materials for use in schools. In fact, they have been given legal advice that RI Classes are discriminatory under the Human Rights Act 1993. The purpose of the lessons is to spread Christian faith. I've seen their material (which is very hard to get) and the values are secondary to the religious beliefs. It should also be noted that Fenwick School failed to achieve the parental support suggested by the CEC's own guidelines for RI classes but they went ahead anyway. To find out more about RI classes and why they shouldn't be in your kids school, go to www.religiouseducation.co.nz

Tani, regarding "what some people want", the minority want it, several more tolerate it, and at least as many people don't want it at all (many of whom say so only privately, so their children won't be singled out, mostly by other children). And "barely even Christian" is still Christian. You wouldn't want you children to have to go to Hindu classes at school every week, so why should a Hindi child (or Buddhist or Jewish or atheist or Sikh or...) have to miss part of the school day each week, just to satisfy one minority's beliefs? I'm sure your church could instruct at church, in a way that it wants, to an audience that wants it. We do NZ children a disservice by mixing church (of any denomination) with state primary schooling, which must remain neutral and inclusive at all times.

Hi Tani. I think you've misunderstood why people are complaining. Teaching kids about religions (plural) is education. Religious instruction is a different thing and making it look like part of the school curriculum blurs those lines. A cynic might say deliberately.

The issue is precisely that school is secular and shouldn't have any religious instruction. It takes time away from other lessons.

School makes up 20% of a child's week. Plenty of time in the other 80% for parents to provide for the religious instruction of their children.

I don't put much value in the words of someone who wouldn't entrust their own children to the state education system, yet being an RI volunteer at this school, expects unsupervised access to ours. The sense of entitlement and Christian privilege is strong - parents have every right to complain about how this has been managed in a SECULAR school.

More than half of families have voted against RI, parents feel that because of their beliefs their children have to be excluded. The school can't be trusted as opted out (young) children have been put back in.

As more comes out, the media will continue to have a field day with the RI experiences of families at this school that go directly against the 'public face' of CEC, often under CEC's name.

Tani's defence of Bible in Schools misses the point. Rev Goodsir is not merely teaching Bible in Schools at Fenwick School; he is also chair of the Board of Trustees which invited the Churches Education Commission to send the tutors in. So he is not acting like a neutral guardian of a secular school; To use his own term, he has "infiltrated" the school and is using the board to promote "the kingdom of heaven".
He infiltrated it again, to get installed as chaplain, and in his published sermon advocating this "infiltration" admits he encouraged a parish member to join him on board to promote the kingdom.
All this is a huge conflict of interest, and the dispute over this and other issues has been referred to a facilitator.
The same facilitator intervened a year ago about complaints including the use of the evangelistic Beginning with God syllabus (not Life Choices), against the wishes of CEC.
This raises concerns about Rev Goodsir, Fenwick's board and CEC. But it's the law that is defective for having no adequate monitoring process, so myself and Tanya Jacob of the Secular Education Network have complained to the Human Rights Review Tribunal and hope to meet them early next year.

Bible stories hardly even Christian?? Seriously??
The CEC don't offer RI "because some people want it", they do it to convert people to their belief system and know the easiest way is to get to impressionable kids who can't tell the difference between unpaid volunteers and professional teachers. If parents actually want to indoctrinate their children, they can take them to a church. This nonsense about closing a school in order to infiltrate it and preach under the guise of "teaching values" must stop. Schools teach values add party of their core business, one of which is integrity. The BoT here obviously needs to think about this particular value.

Why does Fenwick Primary insist on closing for half an hour a week for Christian instruction in a state school? Only 43% of Otago people are Christian of any kind (last census). Sunday School and home are places for religious teaching, not primary school. Our schools must be inclusive for ALL children, at all times, for them all to feel secure. It doesn't matter what our personal belief is, every kid deserves equal treatment, free from instruction in beliefs that might clash with those at home. Religious Instruction is not overseen by the Ministry, it is officially an out-of-school activity, but somehow run in some state schools during school hours. Values are taught aside from these "infiltration" sessions as Goodsir puts them, during normal class as part of the curriculum anyway, so RI adds nothing to that. Children don't need religion to know honesty and kindness. If churches want to also teach that in their own time in a different way, then great if it fits with that family. Just don't bring it to school - it unintentionally isolates a lot of children, and that's not OK. Not all affected families speak up.

The Secular Education Network had the “Life Choices” curriculum reviewed in June 2015 by Paul Morris, who is Professor of Religious Studies at Victoria University and also the UNESCO Chair in Inter-Religious Understanding and Relations in New Zealand and the Pacific.

His report focuses on the content, context and the contention made that these materials are suitable for both Christian and non-Christian students in the religiously diverse environment of contemporary New Zealand, as claimed in CEC materials for parents, school trustees and publicly.

Morris states - “In conclusion: (a) I do not consider that the CEC’s CRE teaching materials that I have examined are at all suitable for non-Christian, non-evangelical students; (b) I do not consider that the assurances to parents and trustees are sufficient to make the content clear or honestly reflect their minority viewpoints; and, (c) I do not view the CEC’s selectivity in relation to the New Zealand curriculum’s competencies and values to validate the claim that Life Choices does support the National Curriculum and it might well be at odds with it, particularly by excluding diversity and critical textual learning.”

In addition I would also add that documents received under the official information act by another Secular Education Network member have revealed that the Ministry of Education have been aware for 15 years that sections 78 and 78A of the Education Act 1964 are inconsistent with the Human Rights Act (1993), and that charges of direct discrimination would be indefensible in a court of law.

While politicians can avoid making changes to this policy, it is the duty of Boards of Trustees to ensure the equal treatment of all children at school under the Human Rights Act legislation.

Guidelines from the School Trustees Association state: “Boards must comply with the requirements of other relevant legislation such as the Human Rights Act 1993.”

Given that the Ministry of Education itself accepts using sections 78 and 78A to close the school for RI is discriminatory, the SEN would request that school boards discuss fully and make the appropriate changes to their school policy to comply with the Human Rights Act in full.

I believe Mr Goodsir has regretted his choice of using the word "infiltrate" - but it characterises the situation well. His whole sermon was built around it and he used it twice in relation to schools and school boards and *never* in relation to a bbq or easter egg hunt. That back-pedalling shouldn't fool parents who are now asking whether there actually is something to be concerned about with regard to religion at the school.

And contrary to the "nothing to see here" poster above, there is. There's an enthusiastically self-confessed evangeliser as Board chair, chaplain and religious instructor at the school. There is not just one type of religious instruction going on, either. There are two. There is "Life Choices" and another highly offensive and evangelical one used. Families are being forced to reveal their religious stance in relation to the programme and even keep their children home from school - hard for those with two parents working, I'm sure. And why are they splitting children up by faith in a state school to support the religious preference of a few when there are churches? Our classrooms are for all the children all the time at school - not to be used as churches.

If you have access to some of the literature that is used for some of the school outreach programmes then the use of 'infiltrate' is quite benign in comparison.

There is a reason that churches argue to stay in schools and it's not, as argued in court, to provide for the continuing spirituality of existing Christian kids. It's to get to young minds while they are open and learning new things. It's in their literature. Even strait laced conservatives talk of the need to make their messages more relevant and exciting for the young.

And the use of exclusion is deliberate. My son has to miss out on his camp next year because they're going to a Christian Camping (Open Brethren) run camp. Imagine how he feels.

It is curious that the comment above describes Fenwick school as "ben(ding) over backwards to cater to parents' wishes) regarding what happens when the school "closes" to assume the role of church Sunday school and provide Christian religious instruction. It seems far more of a contortion to suspend the normal function of the school, dismiss the teachers and bring in volunteers from the church to take over the classrooms. A separate arrangement for children of non-conforming families has to be made. Then there is the ongoing difficulty of reconciling the problems that arise when one-sided faith is uncritically promoted to one half of the school while the other half is segregated off as "unbelievers". And of course there is the spectre of the whole legality of this situation being challenged in the Human Rights Tribunal. All they have actually done for families is go from automatically putting everyones children in christian instruction to making everyone divulge their religious position to their local school. Opt in. Not exactly bending over backwards. And how would you feel being forced to state your religious position to your workplace or have your children indoctrinated?

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