St Heliers School in Auckland has moved its religious instruction course to outside of school hours after two parents filed separate complaints to the Human Rights Commission and a third parent made a formal complaint to the school. The parents said the Christian-based lessons discriminated against non-Christian families, and should not be part of a secular school programme in a multicultural society.

The first complaint, by parent Roy Warren, went to mediation on January 23. Then, without waiting for the mediation to resume, the school this afternoon emailed its parents announcing the changes.

Mr Warren says he’s pleased with the outcome. He notes that the change will result in a fully inclusive environment at the school.

He says he has been overwhelmed by the showing of support from other school parents and the wider community, in particular the Secular Education Network who have been instrumental throughout this process.

He hopes that the result will give parents, who feel the same, courage to challenge schools running similar programs.

Melissa Muirhead, who also complained to the Human Rights Commission, says she’s delighted. She appreciates that the school has now listened to the concerns of parents. “In many ways this is a win:win. For families that support the Bible in Schools programme, it is still available for their children as an extra-curriculum activity. For those families and children that felt isolated and discriminated against, this removes a weekly stress and concern. From the outpouring of support I have received both from parents at St Heliers and parents from all over New Zealand this is a wider issue and I will continue to support inclusivity within all our children’s schools.”

Maheen Mudannayake, who complained to the school says this is a very good outcome for all parties. “The school has listen and acted to address the concerns raised by parents. Parents who supported the program are not disadvantaged, and those who felt isolated by this program can now rest at ease. I feel that this is a good model for all state schools in NZ, where Religious Instruction is held outside normal school hours and is a opt-in activity, as with other extra-curricular activities.”

In the email to parents, the school says it removed the programme out of school hours because:

  • increased curriculum requirements that are generating a greater workload on teachers in order to meet National Standards requirements;

  • Ongoing changes in the New Zealand population that mean it is increasingly difficult for CRE to meet the needs of children and families from diverse backgrounds;

  • The concern of some parents that children who opted out of CRE may feel discriminated against; and

  • two submissions to the Human Rights Commission.

Public relations officer David Hines says the Secular Education Network is over the moon, and members are planning a celebration with the three parents.

But he’s not surprised with the result. He says there were early signs that the school was taking the complaints seriously, and he says the St Heliers protestors are a very persuasive group.