A parent is complaining to the Human Rights Commission about the Religious Instruction lessons provided for his son’s class at St Heliers School in East Auckland. Roy Warren says his ultimate aim would be to eliminate Religious Instruction from his son’s school entirely, but the HRC hearing, set down to hear his complaint on January 23, is a mediation process so he is willing to consider other options.
His son is five years old and was in his first year of school last year. Mr Warren says he is complaining on the basis of his ethical belief (or lack of a religious belief). His complaint is that he doesn’t want his child to be exposed to religious education, especially in his own classroom or to be taken away from his friends to avoid it. His child would be left feeling alienated from his classmates and wondering what he had done wrong.
He says this is discriminatory towards his son and himself. He says his complaint to the Human Rights Commission follows conversations and correspondence with the chairman of the school board of trustees, Garry Ivill, who refused to make any changes. He says Mr Ivill promised that a survey of school parents would be held but this had not happened.
Mr Warren also offered to run an alternative programme of sport for children who wanted to opt out, but he says school principal Craig Mccarthny told him it was not necessary. After Mr Warren lodged his complaint, the school did conduct a survey but Mr Warren said it was unbalanced, as it included material promoting religious instruction. Forty-one percent of parents voted. Of those who took part 67% wanted the programme to continue, 18% wanted it discontinued and 13% were happy for the board to make the decision or were neutral.
Mr Warren also asked why the entire school was asked to vote when the programme is used only in year one and two classes.
The Secular Education Network is supporting Mr Warren’s complaint and three members of its executive committee have offered to give supporting evidence. He says the HRC is discussing this possibility with St Heliers School, and will consider how many speakers each party wants to use at the hearing.
Religious Instruction at St Heliers School is provided by the Churches Education Commission, which provides voluntary teachers for about 700 of the country’s 1800 state primary schools.