11 Feb 2014

School drops Christian studies class

1:01 pm on 11 February 2014

Religious instruction classes have been taken off the regular timetable at an Auckland state primary school, after angry parents complained to the Human Rights Commission.

One of the pages of a booklet used at St Heliers School.

One of the pages of a booklet used at St Heliers School. Photo: SUPPLIED

The classes for five- and six-year-olds were part of St Heliers School's Christian education programme.

Some parents argued the lessons discriminated against non-Christian families and should not be part of a secular school programme in a multicultural society.

St Heliers School on Monday told parents the lessons would become before- or after-school classes.

Roy Warren is one of two parents who complained to the commission and told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme he is pleased with the outcome.

"It allows the children who still want to partake in the programme to do so outside of normal school hours and prevents the people with other beliefs from being marginalised or discriminated against."

St Heliers principal Craig Mccarthny said most parents were in favour of the lessons but the school could not fit them into a busy timetable.

"It's becoming increasingly difficult in a programme such as this to meet the needs of children and families from diverse backgrounds and so by offering this now as a before- or after-school programme ... it just allows people to opt in if they wish."

Mr Mccarthny says factors that influenced the board of governors' decision included the parents' complaints, and that the weekly 30-minute class was needed for other teaching. He said 68 percent of parents surveyed supported the programme continuing and 19 percent were against.

Secular Education Network public relations officer David Hines says about 60 schools cancelled religious instruction classes in school hours between 2011 and last year.

He said the group hopes a petition it is organising will make religion in schools an election issue and stop schools from evangelising children.