This article is an update on the situation at Fenwick School in Oamaru where Church Pastor and Board of Trustees Chairman, Damien Goodsir, had a publicly stated aim of “infiltrating” the school to promote his churches religious faith. You can read the background story here. (Edit: The full report has now been released. You can read it here)
Damien Goodsir has resigned from his position as Chairperson of the Board of Trustees. However, he retains a place on the board, at least until his term ends in September.
Following complaints from parents, an independent reviewer was brought in to discuss the issues with the community and make recommendations. Cleave Hay, an independent school governance consultant, made the following recommendations.
- The board of trustees determine whether to retain Religious Instruction for 2017 based on current attendance numbers.
- The board of trustees seriously consider moving the Religious Instruction programme to another time with voluntary attendance outside school hours, either for 2017 (dependent on above) or for following years.
- The board ensures RI review is included in the triennial workplan, with an annual board/principal review (including attendance statistics) and a full community consultation every third year, perhaps coinciding with their vision/mission/values review.
In response to these recommendations, the board (including Damien Goodsir) voted to retain RI classes for terms 2 and 3 for 2017. I’m not sure why (well, I think I know why but that is speculation on my part), as less than half the children at Fenwick School take part in RI classes, which is lower than the 50% suggested by the Churches Education Commission as being the minimum to continue RI.
They also voted to move the classes to outside of class-time hours in 2018 and make it an opt-in class. Lastly, they voted to consult the community every three years on RI classes from 2018.
A couple of things stand out to me here.
- Why is Damien Goodsir still Chairman of the BOT and voting on religious instruction in the school?
- Moving the classes to “outside of class time” doesn’t actually change anything. For RI classes to take place, the school is required to close, so it isn’t in “class time” anyway. In practice, this vote probably means that people whose goal is to spread their religious faith will be entering the school at lunch time to attempt to offer a fun activity that kids will want to attend so they can convert them.
- While community consultation “sounds” fair and reasonable, it should be remembered that a democratic vote to discriminate in favour of Christian religious instruction within the school is still against the spirit of the secular schooling the Education Act was always intended to offer and means discriminating against non-Christians if it is passed.
Ongoing Complaints Regarding Issues
- The board establishes a complaints handling committee, under the delegations provision of the Education Act 1989, Section 66:1(c). This committee, which must contain 1 trustee contains 2 committee members with no direct association with Fenwick School but are suitably experienced, has clear terms of reference and takes responsibility to resolve existing complaints.
- The committee invites existing complainants to meet individually or collectively to work toward resolution rather than hold continued written dialogue. Mediation may also need considered.
- The committee manages any future complaints received on any matter, on behalf of the board of trustees, and is reviewed by the board each year.
There’s no further explanation on this, so I’m not sure what the purpose of this recommendation is. I get the impression that the BOT have only released certain parts of the report and not the whole thing. They approved this recommendation.
- The board cease the Chaplaincy roles.
- The school maintains a relationship with the chaplains and also maintains a list of, other local organisations and welfare related agencies. The chaplains or agencies would then be available to parents/whanau and staff if and when needed.
- The board conducts consultation with the community in 2018 to measure any desire for a welfare programme in the school.
The BOT voted to adopt all three recommendations. Oddly, Damien Goodsir also “resigned” from his role as a chaplain at the school at the start of the BOT meeting. Considering that he would have already read the recommendations from the consultant that he resign and the chaplain role be terminated, this was a rather pointless and empty gesture. I would also hope the school already knew who to call if there was need of a welfare agency.
Conflicts of Interest by Board Members
- The board seek advice and support via NZSTA providing and extended governance support plan including the provider:- attending a series (3-5) board meetings to advise and guide the board; working with the board and complaints handling committee in establishing clear complaint handling process and understanding natural justice protocols; working with the newly formed committee to support their working through the existing complaints; assisting the board in establishing robust protocols around identifying, declaring and managing conflicts of interest; assisting the board in ensuring their self-review processes include RI, welfare roles and community engagement.
- The the recently re-appointed board chair seriously considers stepping down from the RI and chaplaincy roles to remove areas of potential or perceived conflict, and to assist the board and school in re-establishing strong and full community engagement.
Coincidentally, I have recently contacted the NZSTA to ask for their stance on Religious Instruction. I’ll write about their response to me in future but let’s just say that it was weak, to say the least. The NZSTA have already made recommendations to the Ministry of Education on how best to retain Religious Instruction classes instead of giving a recommendation to remove them.
Regarding conflict of interest… (without seeing the full report), it really looks like Cleave Hay has not only danced around the issue, but completely avoided it, and used the roles of chaplain and RI teacher as unconvincing scapegoats. There is no conflict of interest as a chaplain or as an Religious Instruction teacher as both roles are explicitly religious. The RI teacher is there specifically to preach religious faith! So if there is a conflict of interest for Damien as an RI teacher, then there is a conflict of interest for ALL RI teachers and they should all resign!
The real conflict of interest is actually Damien Goodsir’s role as Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Remember, he has a stated aim to infiltrate the school to spread the word of God. That is expected from Chaplains and RI Teachers but it is not expected from the Chairman of the BOT. As part of his BOT role, he is voting on religious instruction at the school. I struggle to see how Cleave Hay could honestly miss this blatantly obvious issue?
The board minutes state;
D Goodsir tabled a letter outlining his resignation from the position of Chaplain and RI Teacher at Fenwick Primary School, effective immediately.
The BOT reluctantly accepted D Goodsir’s resignation from these positions.
Conflicts of Interest: Nil
This is a childish attempt at respectability by stating an obviously false claim that resigning from these two roles (one of which no longer exists anyway), somehow means there is now no conflict of interest. The BOT minutes said that they “reluctantly” accepted his resignation from these positions? What!? They’re stating that they believe there is a conflict of interest (when there wasn’t in those roles) but they are “reluctantly” accepting his resignation? What about the continued conflict of interest in his role as chairman of the BOT? Evidence of bias in the board of trustees doesn’t get much clearer than this! Surely this tripe can’t convince anyone but the most biased or feeble-minded among the school community?
Damien Goodsir decided that he would speak to the Otago Daily Times in an article on 16/03/2017 entitled “Board chairman drops roles in school“. He claimed in the article that; “…it’s that just two parents are very unhappy with religion being in schools”. This is a blatant lie. There have been many parent complaints with all available slots to talk to Cleave Hay regarding the issue taken and many questionnaires filled out as part of his review. The fact that less than half the children at the school attend RI classes attests to this.
Will the school community let him get away with this? Will they be fooled by the claim that there is no conflict of interest? What do you think? Please comment below!