As mentioned in my previous post about the BOT elections, the 4 incumbents who were re-standing for the positions were re-elected. No surprise there. The only question was who was going to be elected to the remaining fifth parent representative position. Without being coy, I never expected to be elected for the following reasons;
- I’ve only lived in the area for three years, so don’t know a lot of the locals.
- My Daughter has only been at the school for one year.
- I haven’t been particularly involved in school events.
- My position of removing bible classes was likely to deter Christians from voting for me, and they account for half the parents at the school.
- There were other, more well-known people running for the same position.
- I hadn’t done any “campaigning” other than talking to a few parents when picking up from school.
This blog is part of a story about my experience with religious education in my Daughter’s school. If you missed the start of it, you can find the beginning here.
Having said that, the elections still served the purpose of getting out the message that the bible classes aren’t what people assume them to be and that they’re an issue that should be addressed. Just raising awareness of this is a good thing, regardless of the results. So what were the results? Here’s how it panned out with the top 5 being elected…
Ferguson, Vicki – 160
Adams, Dean – 157
King, Tony – 151
Fagan, John – 145
Neumann, Kim – 124
Williams, Gary – 74
Smyth, Dave – 40
Invalid Votes – 7
Apparently, there was a much greater turnout than previous years, with double the number of votes and far higher proportion of votes than other schools. If I’d been a better campaigner, I might have claimed credit for that but I suspect that it’s due to other reasons. Unfortunately, my efforts to create a platform for parents to discuss school issues on facebook backfired! A couple of people preferred to use it to attack me personally. They claimed that the page was created by me, for me to spread my “anti-religion agenda” and linked to this website to try and condemn me. This is despite me not ever posting anything on the facebook page about the bible classes before they made these claims themselves. Even when I did post something, it was only to invite questions from anyone who was interested. I never made any further statements or linked to this website. I had wanted people to be able to discuss the issue between themselves and say what they thought without any pressure from me but this attempt at open dialogue was undermined.
Pretty non-threatening stuff right? Apparently not, as there seems to have been quite a movement going on in the background against me. I’m told that Christian parents and staff at the school started wearing crosses as some sort of statement of solidarity and the grapevine tells me that there has been much discussion (critical) of me. I wouldn’t mind this so much if anyone actually had the courage to speak to me about it. Maybe even asked questions! But no… nothing. There were not even any comments from people who were pro-RI. They simply stayed silent, presumably in the knowledge that the classes are entrenched and did not need to be defended. Sadly, this backlash seems to have closed down any open discussion and made other people afraid to say what they think.
On a more positive note, although I didn’t get in, a significant proportion of the people who voted, voted for what I stood for. It’s fair to assume that they agreed with the idea of removing bible classes. So, even in the face of an organised Christian block of voters, it’s pretty clear that there is a large chunk of people who don’t like their kids being coerced into religious instruction. If you’re reading this, and you agree with me, then don’t just put your kids into the bible classes – opt them out! Sadly, a really common response I get from people who don’t like Religious Instruction is that they hope that their kids won’t be affected by the classes, and even though they disagree with them, they put their kids into them anyway so they fit in.
I’ll say one last thing to anyone who is on a board of trustees in any school in New Zealand. It is your obligation to uphold the legal rights of all children at your school. The legal team of the Ministry of Education stated in 2001 that religious instruction classes contradict the Human Rights Act 1993 and that they have “no defence” against a claim of direct discrimination. I’m making that claim. What are you going to do about it? (See bottom of page 3 – document released under an Official Information Act request)
What do you think? Board members are liable to uphold the law. Will they do what needs to be done?
Update 06/2017: I left the school alone for nearly a year. They made no changes to the religious instruction classes. Not one of the board of trustees have been in touch with me. I thought it was about time to remind them I haven’t gone away… read more