Opt-out kids treated badly

boy who wants to opt out religious education class

boy who wants to opt out religious education classChildren who are opted out of religious instruction classes often have an inferior experience to their peers that stay in bible lessons. In my own daughter’s experience, she finds the opt out lessons boring. “All we do is watch a video about being nice and play the same six board games every week”. This is in stark contrast to the bible classes that have a diverse syllabus that includes a prepared lesson every week with activities such as dressing up, drawing pictures, fun games and a variety of other things. I approached the teacher who runs the opt out class about making the classes more interesting by arranging visitors to teach things like first aid, bush skills, local geology and so on but the teacher was extremely hostile and seemed more intent on berating me for my stance against religious instruction than improving the experience of the children. This is contrary to the bible classes where the church volunteers have free-rein to make the classes as entertaining (and inviting) as they can.

People who support religious instruction don’t seem to care how opt out kids are treated, how bad their experience can be and that the very act of being forced to leave their friends to avoid religious instruction is contrary to the values of integrity, diversity, inclusiveness and community that the Ministry of Education curriculum requires them to promote. It’s not even that opt out classes aren’t fun or that some children are treated badly, it’s that being forced into a position of having to opt out of a Christian class in a secular school is morally and ethically wrong!

This Radio New Zealand report includes a heartbreaking interview with a mother who opted her 5 year old daughter out of religious instruction. She had to be separated from her friends to avoid evangelism but due to the sense of isolation, asked to be put back into the class and “wanted to believe in god” so that she could go. This is a repulsive thing to do to children. It is emotional blackmail. It is against the values we should be standing for.

Listen to the interview…

If you have a story to tell, please get in touch. It doesn’t have to be long!

Our child’s school had a visiting group come in during school hours and as we opted her out. Sshe lost out on the lollies that were given as bribes to believe in God. After two years of doing nothing for 45mins a week they were finally given some social studies during that time. Madness – M.A. (Facebook)

This is a huge issue as well, it’s almost a form of peer pressure. The kids want to join in and when they’re excluded by the school or their parents it makes them stand out amongst their peers, not a good thing. I remember when I did bible at primary school we thought the kids who were taken out of class were weird.  – (Reddit)

Had this discussion when my daughter was at primary school. Children did not have to attend but were then put into the library to do other work, consequently felt like the naughty corner for them so to speak. – J.W. (Facebook)

My son in pre school used to come home and check behind every door to make sure god wasn’t hiding there. He was terrified of “god”. A few years later my daughter aged 8, new girl in school, feeling frightened and also having just lost her grandfather very suddenly, was asked in front of the whole class, “How did Jesus help you when your grand dad died?” She came home in tears but kept going to RE (that’s what it was called!!) because the opt out kids were bullied! When I spoke to the teachers they refused to see the problem. My daughter is 24 now with a science degree and I’m still angry – M.S. (Facebook)

Oh this fight is so old! In the eighties, my two younger sons attended Henderson Valley Primary, West Auckland. We opted them out. They were set to pick up rubbish. No supervision. They got up to petty mischief: we were blamed and ordered to meet with the principal! My contention, as a child of a principal, was NZ education was secular and the school was loco parentis from homegate to homegate. As far as I remember the boys were allowed to read inside after that. – J.L. (via email)

I still remember having to sit outside, or in the library while the rest of my class were indoctrinated. While I absolutely agree with my parents decision, it was a lonely time as a child. This law is a relic of a bygone age, get rid of it.  – R.B. (Facebook)

Based on my experience at primary school, I think it was an insidious and extremely bias attempt to indoctrinate children in the supposedly secular public system. – W.R. (Facebook)

My wee girl still calls spending time in the library (colouring in) “bible studies” too (freaks me out every time thinking she’s been left in the class ) ..she hates it. Hates school on Tuesday because of the segregation. – C.W. (Facebook)

It ostracises kids and excludes them from their peers. Not only that, but why do parents have to ‘opt out’ when it’s a state school!? You wouldn’t get away with a high school teacher indoctrinating their students about their political ideology for example. Why is religion an exception?  – (Reddit)

If I said no my kids will be isolated in a breakfast room by themselves sooo no choice. – R.H. (Facebook)

At my school, the opt-outs were sent to the library to read. My family wasn’t Christian, but I told my mum I didn’t want to opt out because we got lollies during the Bible lessons.  – (Reddit)

My son had to miss out on school camp because the school chose a evangelical Christian camp. Considering he’s already bullied by kids for not being Christian it wasn’t really an option to let him go. And then he got ostracised for not going on camp… and to add insult to injury the school marked him absent even though he was doing alternative educational activity agreed with them. – N.C. (Comment on Stuff)

When my daughter was seven her teacher (state school) asked those in her class who did not believe in god to stand up. My daughter and two other brave girls stood (out of 30 kids…I bet there were actually more). The teacher then proceeded to verbally attack these three kids in front of the class, saying ‘well I hope you don’t celebrate Christmas then, as that is a religious celebration’. While the teacher was technically correct, what right did she have to talk to seven year olds like that, and try and force her religious views on to them. Yes..I was in the principals office first thing the next morning! And, as noted above..RI is not religious instruction…it’s Christian Instruction. Time for it to go.  – F.D. (Comment on Stuff)

The problem with pulling your kid out of the class is how it’s done. When I was a kid we were just made to sit outside, it felt like a form of punishment.  – (Reddit)

My child was injured by a classmate who attended RI, after the RI lesson when her friend was likely frightened for my child’s lack of belief. Her fear manifested in a way that she twisted my child’s arm until she screamed in pain. That was Connect program that tells RI kids, bad things will happen to those who don’t follow God. – A.R. (Facebook)

I’ve just found out my son has been attending a RI class every Friday morning from 9-9:30. Apparently it goes for 6 weeks. As I just found out (and I had specifically opted him OUT of RI when I enrolled him – he’s 5) I asked to have him opted out again and was told he would have to sit in the school office during it or not be brought to school until 9:30am. Is this right? I’m not a happy camper. – L.S. (Facebook)

I did opt my child out and she was repeatedly put back into these classes, even given one-on-one time with the bible teacher. Then there was the religious bullying that resulted. If it was as easy as just opting out there would not be so many people wanting the situation fixed.   – (Reddit)

Gosh I withdrew my daughter from Religious education when she was at primary school because she was scared of being “punished”. Ridiculous clap trap that was being fed to these impressionable kids! And it was done without parental permission – till I discovered it. She is 29 years old (almost) and I cant believe it is still in our schools. They were unable to produce a curriculum or tell me what the content was. Apparently I was meant to know….. I asked that we have education about different doctrines and religions because there were kids who were Hindi, Buddhist and Muslim and no doubt others at the school. But I was treated like a pariah. Unbelievable that we are still dealing with this! – H.B. (Facebook)

I have had the very same thought Frances after encountering principals who on the one hand seem hell bent on getting every child meeting national standards but at the same time sacrifice valuable teaching and learning time allowing RI which has no educational benefit and is not in the nz curriculum. Time off for teachers is definitely a factor. I have been so disappointed by a number of principals on this issue. At our son’s school, one of their much vaunted school values was ‘inclusiveness’ and another was ‘diversity’. As my 5 yr old son sat in the library with the other kids whose parents opted out, the other poor victims were fair game for christians to share their views of one clearly preferenced religion. My son came home upset because he was being hassled that he didn’t believe in god – just horrible (and the school should be ashamed). There were Bhutanese refugee children sitting in there being told by trusted adults who their god should be – disgusting. So exclusive and lacking in diversity. Principal was weak and I suspected she was either Christian or was under pressure from her BOT. Check who’s running for the BOT – local churches often nominate a candidate or two and then collude to vote them on. There is a definite strategy to control BOTs by Christian groups I believe. Remember that these are the people who employ the principals. L.H. (Facebook)

To all those saying you can just opt out; when I opted out it was usually library time, but sometimes we were made to do cleaning and other things. One time we spent RI moving bricks. I didn’t mind as anything was better than RI but some kids will feel punished and 2nd class with this kind of behaviour. – J.B. (Facebook)

My daughter has gone from feeling obligated to do ‘cool bananas’ to proper bible classes, none of this was agreed to by me, my daughter wasn’t asked and was told to cover her ears during to bible lesson. I’m bloody fuming WTF can I do? She feels pressure to do it socially and the teacher tells me that she will be given an iPad at the back of the class if she doesn’t want to. –  J.S (Facebook)

I went to a primary school where if you didn’t want to study Religious(christian) education you were sent to sit in the library for 2 hours and you weren’t aloud to talk and were treated like you were in detention. When we went back to the classroom all the kids who stayed for the christian learning were given lollies and told not to share with us heathens – Some christian values being taught there!!! – D.S. (Facebook)

I when signed my 2 sons out of relgious education and they got left in a room to read a book by themselves. They got no education for that hour every week. The principle is a christian and forced his beliefs on the kids and started his own church in the school hall. – J.K. (Facebook)

Can’t believe this is still going on! I remember having to sit outside the classroom by myself because I refused to listen to their nonsense when they wouldn’t/couldn’t answer my questions. – A.K. (Facebook)

Often because it is a pain in the butt to do so even when opting out kids don’t actually go anywhere, t has been to 3 different schools where he’s stayed in the same class and participated because it was easier than sending him to the library despite having very specifically opted out. – H.W. (Facebook)

Our school had Bible studies with an opt out option. The head of the New Entrants strongly encouraged people not to opt out, so there children would not feel ostracized – nice.- T.O. (Facebook)

I had exempt myself from RI but then was accused of truancy. My school principal called me to the office “very disappointed” and then asked if I was Buddhist, Hindu, Brethren or other. I of course said no and was then told that I AM a Christian then. What a disgusting response. I thankfully had the presence of mind to tell her that I absolutely knew I was not a Christian so was allowed to remain absent of the Christian indoctrination classes. I just wonder what would have happened had I not had that clear view and confidence to reject her claim. She literally tried to bully and trick me in to attending these classes. Awful. – (Comment on Waikato Times article)

Walked into my child’s class today to find them getting children to pray… My opted out child included. Why? Other classes were on trips. I was PISsEd!! My girl saw and quickly reminded me not to make a scene sorry babe, “keep religion out of classrooms” was my loud and proud statement, to which I got the response “we were only praying”. What the actual fuck?! – J.S. (Facebook)

In smaller schools, teachers can have a much greater individual influence on how the school is run. In this case, the kids that opted out of religious instruction classes made a significant difference that the teachers seemed to resent. The lack of communication from the teachers to the parents and the board of trustees in this case is terrible!

About 10 years ago my oldest child started primary school. Our local primary school was a small country school with 3 teachers and 2 classrooms. I don’t remember discussing Religious Instruction at the time she started or when our son started 2 years later.

Eventually our children came home & started telling us…

“God made this.”

“Oh did he?”

“Yes he did, Mrs H said so.”

“Oh, Ok. Well that’s what some people believe, but remember not everyone believes that.”

“But Mrs H said God made everything! Is she telling lies? What do you believe?”

“Well I’m a scientist & I believe that the explanation Mrs H gave you is how some people explain how things came to be. Other cultures believe different things, like the Maori believe in different Gods & that Maui pulled the North Island out of the sea from his canoe the South Island.. It’s how people explain things before science.”

“But Mrs H said….”

My children tolerated RI, they found it boring as they did the same things each year and one day they asked if they had to keep doing it. I talked to them about the classes and decided they were old enough to make this decision. I looked into it through the MOE and saw that all that was required was a letter to the school saying the children were not to attend the classes anymore. So we did this.

Unfortunately, on the same day, a second family also opted out and that week 4 children in the senior class opted out of RI classes. When the total role of your primary school is less than 30, and all of a sudden the teachers had 8 students to organise rather than 4, and as the school is officially closed while the RI classes take place, it was considered difficult. The classes took place on Tuesday, in the middle of the day. The children who had opted out were put in the library, often supervised by a Teacher Aide.

My children were asked by their teacher why they had opted out, they were told in front of the class that their parents had given “silly excuses” for opting them out. They were told in front of the class that their parents were not aware of the value of the classes in teaching “Morals & values” and that they would be responsible for the RI teacher “losing her job” and especially if other children followed their lead and opted out. The students were pulled from class and questioned in private by the teachers. The students were told how inconvenient it was that so many children now required supervision while the RI classes took place. Every Tuesday the students would know that their teacher would be in a bad mood because she would need to find something for them to do while the classes took place. At times, the students were reduced to tears by the teachers both in private & in front of the class.

At no time, did the teachers approach the parents of the children who had opted out.

Both my children and the other 2 children who opted out on the same day, had parents on the BOT.

All the teachers attended Church regularly and took the students opting out personally. It was as if the teacher’s choice to believe in God & my children opting out was an affront to their own beliefs.

The students considered that everything Mrs H said was fact – they considered her a “teacher” just like their other teachers! They could not understand why what Mrs H said was not the same as Mrs S teaching them maths or science. They could not understand why they could opt out of this class but not the others. They did not understand why their parents would say “No, you don’t have to do this class.” & yet their teachers seemed to hate them for it.

I will always regret, that I did not take the teachers to task over their treatment of these students. The students were subjected to emotional blackmail and repeated bullying by their teachers. Unfortunately, experience told me that talking to the teachers could make the bullying worse. Fortunately soon after, the school closed and my children moved to other schools where RI was not an issue.

This experience taught my children that adults would not always respect their decision to believe in different things. They learned that adults they trusted and respected could and would turn against them and treat them badly. They learned that being a “good Christian” & going to church every week, does not always mean you are a nice person.

Lisa A.

How many churches do we have??? If I wanna go, I’ll go, if my child wants to go, they can, but don’t impose beliefs upon my children that I don’t feel the need to instill as that is my choice. Absolutely nothing against religion, but don’t expect it to be fed to me or my kids unless I ask for it. I had a teacher force it down my throat when I was 8, she said that we were poor and didn’t have lunch because my parents weren’t holy and worthy of a good life. I will never forget her, Mrs Denny, evil evil woman. She made us read the bible every day from 10-10.30am that was one of the most disturbing experiences. Then, because I came from a poor family, I was put on a programme where I was taken to Sunday school every week with a man who had very questionable actions towards the other young girls in our group. When I told my mother that we were being taken to his house to see all his animals and that he had a locked room and was a loner… she stopped me from going. Not fair that these dodgy ones ruin the image of others but it would not have been a problem had religious work not been mixed with education in my day. Children should definitely have that exposure according to their families beliefs etc. As all people make their own choice in the end. If my kids decided to go to church tomorrow I would totally support them too ☺ as it is their choice.

A.S. – Facebook

Have you or your children been treated badly because of religious instruction at school? You can email me your story here.

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