Where do Principals fit into Religious Education?

headmaster with bible
This looks like my ld headmaster!
headmaster with bible
This looks like my old headmaster!

At this point, I really thought that the school was just uninformed about the facts and that if I was able to explain to them what was really going on, they would see that the classes were being un reasonably pushed upon kids and the school community. How naive I was!

True to his word, Dean passed my email to Judy who responded…

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: Judy Eagles
Sent: Wednesday, 1 July 2015 10:23 a.m.
To: Dave Smyth
Cc: Dean Adams
Subject: Bible in Schools

Hi Dave

Dean has asked me to respond to your email regarding your concerns about the Bible in Schools programme.

I did not see the programme on TV but do know that what is reported on these programmes does not always give a full and unbiased view of things.

Bible in schools has been happening at Maungatapere for a very long time but is reviewed regularly with the community, at least every 3 years.

The review last year resulted in 42% of those who responded to the question in agreement, 42% said they don’t mind while 16% said no. This does reflect a large majority of our current school community being okay with the programme. The fact that most of the bible teachers come from within the community may well reflect the community also. The programme is inter-denominational approved by the NZ Churches Education Commission.

It is called Bible in Schools programme.

The Board of Trustees is answerable to the Maungatapere Community and the Parents of the School as the elected representatives of the community and as such believe the community supported the status quo. They feel their role is to represent and reflect the values held by the majority of our community, while at the same time acknowledging and respecting the views of the minority. For this reason children who do not attend are involved in an alternative programme with no questions asked, or begin school at the later time. Our NZ traditions and values for both Maori and European reflect our Christian heritage.

The school and Board until now have not received any concerns or complaints about the programme. Only a small number of pupils do not attend currently.

The school will continue to review the programme regularly and will obviously relook at the programme should the community indicate they want change.

I think it is important to remember it is not compulsory and is a parent choice on enrolment.

We also acknowledge that we are never going to meet the views of all our community in any area and policies like uniforms, camps, Ag Day and religious instruction always have strong opinions at both ends of the spectrum.

Regards

Judy Eagles
Principal
Maungatapere School


While I appreciated the detailed response, I felt that it was, in part, inaccurate and somewhat misleading and there seemed to be too much focus on the specific case of maltreatment at Red Beach School, which wasn’t really relevant to the situation at Maungatapere School. I wasn’t complaining about the treatment of the kids but the Bible in Schools programme as a whole.

As the Principal, Judy is involved in the decision-making process the Board of Trustees goes through regarding religion in the school. Principals are really busy people, who juggle a lot of different responsibilities, so I hadn’t wanted to contact her in the first instance.

I was surprised at a few of the comments that Judy made. In particular, I felt that much of what she said was about distracting attention away from the issues I’d raised rather than addressing them. I copied Dean into my response and pointed out that the figures Judy had quoted, did not support the decisions that they had made.

I think it was at this point that I thought I might have moved from being just another parent to being a “problem”. I felt like I was being gently pushed aside to the “too hard” pile.

From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Wednesday, 1 July 2015 11:53 a.m.
To: ‘Judy Eagles’
Cc: ‘Dean Adams’
Subject: RE: Bible in Schools

Hi Judy & Dean,

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

My concerns are not related to the TV programme. They were pre-existing and it only prompted me to make contact.

I have attached the 2014 community survey responses.

  • Only 24 families responded to the 2014 survey. This is about 15% of the total number of families with children attending the school.
  • 10 of the respondents said yes to religious studies (representing 6% of all the families)
  • 6 respondents made comments asking for more choice or diverse studies of other religions

Clearly, there were concerns and complaints raised by parents in the survey results but were apparently ignored by the BOT.

Question 17 in the survey stated that the class is “Religious Studies”. This is misleading, as there is no objective study of the bible at all in these classes. In fact, it is not a study of religion, it is a study of one religion. It was also the only question in the survey to include a “Don’t Mind” option that allowed the board to interpret the answer any way they please.

I think that it is also misleading to associate these classes with teaching values, tradition or heritage. I think most parents would be insulted to be told that they needed local church members to teach their children values. Tradition and heritage belong in social studies and history classes. Values, heritage and tradition are also already a part of what teachers do every day. Religious instruction is the real reason these classes are in the school. They are not teaching facts, they are teaching faith.

The classes not being compulsory is not really relevant either. They are “opt-out”, which again indicates a bias on the part of the school. Do you think that the number of children attending these classes would be as high if they were “opt-in” with a non-religious alternative option available? I very much doubt it.

Given that 85% of parents did not care enough about religious studies to respond to the survey and 58% of those that did respond did not say that they wanted the classes, how is the BOT representing the wishes of the majority or the community? With only 6% of families wanting to continue the classes and concerns raised not being addressed, it seems to me that there is a strong bias to protect the status quo and the churches access to our kids.

regards,
Dave Smyth


Judy responded with this email. I thought it was rather dismissive considering I had responded specifically to the points she had raised, but it was reasonable of her to involve the BOT as they were the ones who had approved the classes in the first place.

From: Judy Eagles
Sent: Wednesday, 1 July 2015 1:27 p.m.
To: Dave Smyth
Cc: Dean Adams
Subject: RE: Bible in Schools

Hi Dave
We will table your issues at the next Board of Trustees meeting at the beginning of next term.
I think this is the appropriate avenue and then the Board can respond.
Thanks

Judy Eagles
Principal
Maungatapere School


 

After that, I got another email from Dean, saying that the BOT meetings are open to any parents who want to attend. I then asked if it was to watch or be involved in and got this response…

From: Dean Adams
Sent: Friday, 3 July 2015 8:22 p.m.
To: Dean Adams
Subject: Re:

Dave.

I have confirmed with Judy that attendances are usually on a watch/observe basis. If you would like to have the BOT consider a proposal from you it probably would be best in writing and can be tabled for review at the next or subsequent meeting. This would not be the first occasion that the topic of Religious Studies has been discussed or reviewed by the Board during my last two terms it has come up several times, but there has not been a prevailing view to change the status quo.

Regards
Dean


 

The last sentence of Dean’s email suggested that I was probably wasting my time expecting the BOT to change their mind on something that had already been discussed several times in the last few years.

From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Monday, 6 July 2015 10:15 a.m.
To: ‘Dean Adams’
Subject: RE:

Hi Dean,

Thanks for that. I might put a proposal through to you.

What’s the prevailing view been? I mean, for what reasons is it being kept running?

Also, can I get a copy of the teaching guidelines and materials?

regards,
Dave Smyth


I didn’t get a response to the last email to Dean, so followed up a week later. Dean had been busy with calving and phoned me sometime after that email. I don’t recall the details of the conversation but there was mention of tradition, values and status quo. This becomes a bit of a theme when anyone defends RE classes! I never did get a copy of the teaching materials from the school.

I had also responded to Judy’s email telling her that I’d be happy to attend the meeting if the board would like me to. I got no response to that email, so I emailed her again  3 weeks later, asking to attend the next meeting so I could put a proposal to them board regarding the classes

From: Dave Smyth
Sent: Monday, 20 July 2015 2:56 p.m.
To: ‘Judy Eagles’

Hi Judy,

I’d like to put a proposal to the board of trustees regarding the bible in schools classes at the meeting on Wednesday night.

I wouldn’t take more than 10 minutes at the most to explain what I want to say and would be happy to leave a printed copy for the members.

Would this be ok?

regards,
Dave Smyth


Judy responded that it would be ok, so it was all set!

From: Judy Eagles
Sent: Monday, 20 July 2015 5:54 p.m.
To: Dave Smyth
Cc: Dean Adams
Subject: RE:

Hi Dave

The meeting starts at 7pm.  If you come then and present your proposal we can then move on to the meeting after that.  It may not be to be discussed at this meeting as there may be further information required and it is important that the board have time to respond properly.

Hope that is okay.

Regards

Judy Eagles
Principal
Maungatapere School


I really appreciated the opportunity to do this but unfortunately, it didn’t happen as Dean Adams was sick and couldn’t be there. Given that he was the chair of the board, we decided to postpone the presentation until the following month and it was set for 19th August 2015.

What do you think of the school’s initial response? Please comment below and then find out what happened at the board meeting…

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply