Wellsford School Shifts To Opt-In Religious Instruction

Betsy Tipping fought religious instruction at Wellsford School
Betsy Tipping being interviewed for a TV news report

Wellsford School was very defensive when parents got together and complained about religious instruction. To my great surprise, in a newsletter sent out on 11th April 2019, it was announced that the board of Trustees had decided to follow the 2018 draft guidelines on religious instruction from the Ministry of Education and change the RI classes to be “opt in”.

While this does not remove the classes from the school, it does change the status of the classes from something you have to “out your family” to escape from, to something more like after-school sports or a club that you have to choose to attend. Essentially, the stigma associated with your children not being in Bible classes is more or less gone.

Wellsford School’s Board of Trustees should be congratulated for making this change. It is a step in the right direction.

Here is the notification sent home to parents…

Parent Permission to attend Life Choices

Last week, we sent home information about Life Choices Programme, which is available at Wellsford School in Terms 2 and 3 each year. The Board of Trustees has adopted the newly published recommendations of the Ministry [of Education] and so any parent who wishes their child to attend, must indicate this by returning the permission slip to the school office. Life Choices is now an OPT-IN programme, so parents must return the slip, if their child is to be included.

It is unlikely that there would have been any change if Betsy Tipping had not complained about the classes. She took it on herself to front communication with the school and encourage them to consider the impact of promoting religious faith in a secular school. She organised a group of like-minded parents and was even interviewed by print and TV media organisations.

While a very biased, official school survey showed that 33% of parents opposed the classes, Betsy also organised another more neutral survey, which the school refused to support and even discouraged parents from taking part in. The comments that accompanied the parent-initiated survey responses showed that many parents just wanted their children to be free of religious pressures while at school.

Unfortunately, this change comes too late for Betsy and her family. After her experiences with the school over religious instruction, she moved her children to a different school.

The level of coercion felt by parents and children in schools that promote religious instruction should not be dismissed. Wherever parents struggle with pressures due to Bible Classes in secular primary schools, the concerns are always the same. The insinuation that being Christian is “good” and not being Christian is “bad” is pervasive and damaging. A friend at my daughter’s school recently said that her 6 year old had told her that he feels “bad different” because they opt him out of Bible in Schools.

All children want to feel is that they fit in and are the same as everyone else. Bible in Schools is divisive and against the inclusive values that the Ministry of Education promote. Any schools still running religious instruction classes should consider why teaching good values requires any religious faith included. We don’t need fries with that.

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