Moving up the Ministry of Education chain of command

Felt a bit like this...
Felt a bit like this...
Felt a bit like this…

I wasn’t quite sure what to do next. I’ve been advising people on either financial decisions or internet marketing as part of my business for over 20 years and I’m not used to getting ignored or fobbed off! On the advice of someone from the Secular Education Network facebook page (who had been through the same thing), I found out who the Ministry of Education Senior Adviser to our School was and left a message on her voice mail as well as sending her this email.

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.

From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Thursday, 15 October 2015 3:14 p.m.
To: Lesley Parton
Subject: Bible in Schools Classes

Hi Lesley,

Further to my phone message, please find attached some files relating to a proposal I put to the BOT at Maungatapere School.

Note that I have attached a lot of source material that I referred to in my proposal to Maungatapere School to back up what I said but I certainly don’t expect you to read it all!  If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to call or email me. I’m also happy to meet if you would like to.

I am completely against any instruction in religious beliefs being taught in a secular state school and took a proposal to the board to have the classes removed (attached “Key Points Against Bible in Schools.pdf”). The next day, I followed it up addressing some points raised by teachers and board members (see my email).

It took eight weeks to get a response. (see attached “2015-10-15 BOT response to Religious Education proposal.pdf”)

Based on their reply, I consider it pointless to spend time trying to get a reaction that is anything other than defensive. I wanted to give them the courtesy of first contact and a chance to correct their mistakes themselves. However, they don’t want to do this. Hence my contact with you.

I have put considerable time into providing them with information that explains why these classes, and the way the school promotes them, are unacceptable.

You will see that some of what I put in my proposal relates to ethical/moral reasoning and that the main purpose of the classes is evangelising and indoctrination in Christian faith. I understand that the MOE probably can’t have an opinion on these things (yet). However, I think that there is at least one issue within your scope.

The school has been promoting Bible in Schools classes since at least 2011 by telling parents that they are “Ministry of Education Approved”. This appears in the 2011 and 2014 Community Surveys (survey results attached). I think it has also been stated on enrolment forms but they may have changed that after my proposal.

It was a complete surprise to the entire board of trustees and the teachers in the room that the classes actually have no Government approval at all. They also seemed to have no idea what the kids were actually being taught as none of them had read the bible in schools teachers guides. They seem to think it’s all colouring in and storytime.

I fail to see how they can continue these classes when the entire school community is under the false impression that the MOE approves them?

These classes have been insinuated into the school over a period of many years by people promoting their own religion at the expense of the religious freedom our children are entitled to. The pitiful lack of research by the board and basic lack of responsibility taken is bad enough, but I find their butt-covering, cavalier reply insulting.

In his response, the chairman completely ignores the most important points I raised and states their right to approve religious instruction. My understanding is that BOT decisions should be based on consultation with the school community. In this case, not only has the community been misled for many years but when the 2014 survey showed that most people did not want the classes, they continued them anyway.

Thanks for your time!

regards,
Dave Smyth


Apparently, Lesley’s email auto responder and voice message weren’t up to date, because when she contacted me two weeks later after she said she had been away on holiday.

Lesley phoned me on 29th October but it was like I was talking to the board all over again. She was dismissive, even of the claims the school were making that the MOE approved the classes! So not much joy, but I responded with this email. After all, public servants are there for us, right? May as well get my tax-dollar moneys-worth!

From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Thursday, 29 October 2015 2:31 p.m.
To: Lesley Parton

Hi Lesley,

Thank you for your time on the phone this morning.

Further to the false claims of “Ministry of Education approval” that Maungatapere school has made about the Bible in schools classes, I do not think that this is, as you said; “grasping at straws”. If parents have been misled, they need to be notified and given the correct information.

I suggest that you consult with the Ministry of Education legal team to determine how they would view this claim, as I suspect they will not be terribly thrilled about it when they find out. Nor would the parents of children attending the classes on the back of that claim.

I think it is appropriate that the school do the following;

  • Inform parents that the classes are not and never have been approved by the Ministry of Education.

While I think that it is fundamentally wrong to allow evangelisation of religious beliefs of any kind during normal school hours, the classes should only be continued if;

  • Votes in favour of the classes in previous Community Surveys are disregarded due to misinformation provided to parents. The Board of Trustees has an obligation to represent the community (they said this in their letter to me), which they obviously can’t do if they gave the community the wrong information to vote on the classes in the first place.
  • A new Community Survey about the classes goes out that tells parents;
    1. That the classes are not a study of religion but are an instruction in Christian faith.
    2. That the classes are not Ministry of Education approved.
    3. That the school is closed while the classes take place and attendance is not required.
    4. People voting for the classes should give a preferred time for the class outside normal school hours or during lunchtime.

I really don’t see why any child in the school should miss around 20+ hours of class time a year for the promotion of religion.

Please respond to this email letting me know what communication you have had with the school and what action they will take.

I apologise for having to involve you in this situation. I approached the school in good faith but have been confronted only with excuses and irrelevant distractions in an attempt to avoid taking responsibility.

As always, I am available if you would like to discuss or clarify anything about this matter.

regards,
Dave Smyth


 

From: Lesley Parton [mailto:Lesley.Parton@education.govt.nz]
Sent: Friday, 6 November 2015 10:58 a.m.
To: dave@energise.co.nz
Subject: RE:

Hi David

I have spoken to the Principal and pointed out  your concern that although the Ministry of Education approves Religious Instruction to be carried out in Schools as stated in the Education Act 1964. (As per attached some notes) that the actual Religious Instruction Programme is the responsibility of the School.

I believe that the Enrolment form that parents complete at Enrolment clearly gives the option as to opt in or out and arrangements are made to care for those children who do not participate. I also understand that at the beginning of the year there  is an update in the school newsletter that reiterates this option.

I also understand that teachers remain in the classroom during Religious Instruction and hereby ensure that programmes and behaviour standards are maintained.

I don’t believe I have any more advice or correspondence on the matter and as I pointed out to you earlier that under Self-Managing Schools Boards determine through their policies and procedures their day to day management of the school.

Kind regards
Lesley Parton | Senior Advisor | Sector Enablement and Support, Te Tai Tokerau


Time to close this off and move on!

From: Dave Smyth [mailto:dave@energise.co.nz]
Sent: Friday, 6 November 2015 12:26 p.m.
To: ‘Lesley Parton’
Cc: ‘EnergiseWeb@EnergiseWeb.solve360.com’
Subject: RE:

Ok thanks for that.

I am aware of the legislation but your response is as evasive as the board’s was.

  • The main point is that board has clearly misrepresented the classes to the school community using the Ministry of Education’s name. If that isn’t something you can act on, I don’t know what is!

The school don’t even follow the guidelines in the notes you sent.

  • The classes are implicated to be part of the curriculum but do not educate about religion, they instruct children in faith (parents aren’t told this).
  • My daughter loses a minimum of 20 hours of class time a year so the local church can indoctrinate the other kids.
  • The board has arrogantly responded that they have the right, and are using it. What they fail to do (and are required to) is act on behalf of the community. This is obviously impossible, as the community have been fed either no information or false information and so can’t make an informed decision. Even then, the survey results don’t support the boards decision.

The school has misled parents for many years through misinformation and a lack of information. It’s no coincidence that board members have been and still are members of the same churches that support the organisation providing the religious instruction classes. Somewhat disappointing that board members didn’t feel the need to declare this conflict of interest when I raised the issue.

I’m amazed that so many people who consider themselves to be responsible enough to be on a school board and possibly “good Christians” are willing to be so manipulative and lacking in responsibility!

As both the board of trustees and yourself are unwilling to even admit to a problem, let alone do anything to rectify it, I will be contacting the Ministry of Education directly.

regards,
Dave Smyth


As you can see, I was getting absolutely no where here either, so decided to close off this avenue and contact the Ministry of Education directly. Can you tell, I was moving from “frustrated” to “pissed off”? Please pass on your comments below and find out what happened next…

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