Parents and principals outraged at Dept of Education rollback on religious ed
Principals and parents are outraged at amendments the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) has made this week, rolling back changes it enforced in July to make it easier for Principals to remove Special Religious Instruction (SRI) from their schools.
The amendments include allowing religious instructors to perform activities outside of SRI such as lunch time activities, and no longer requires principals to inform parents how long SRI is delivered for each week.
The change that has caused the biggest stir, was the removal of the clause that gave principals an explicit reason to not offer SRI which was: “[if] the principal determines that the school does not have sufficient resources.”
Principal of Cranbourne South Primary School, Joe Kelly, told MCV he was “absolutely outraged” at the revised ministerial direction.
“I believe it’s a slap in the face to principals across Victoria,” the principal said.
“The first ministerial direction relating to SRI gave principals the authority and responsibility to make decisions based on operational issues and in accordance to local circumstances of the school - that authority has been withdrawn.
“The minister has clearly capitulated to the demands of religious groups and is prepared to show disrespect to principals and their capacity for them to manage this at a local level.”
Principal Kelly also told MCV that the new direction is an “insult to parents”, and that SRI will continue to be “divisive, disruptive and anti-educational”.
MCV has however, had confirmation from the DEECD that principals continue to have the ability to make resourcing decisions about school activities, including SRI.
The Department has said the changes were made to simplify the direction given to principals, and allow principals to use guidance in current regulation, rather than a specific direction from the DEECD.
The Minister for Education, Martin Dixon, said the “Napthine Government stands steadfast on safeguarding freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of association.
"I have amended the Ministerial Direction on Special Religious Instruction to ensure complete consistency with those principles and the 2006 legislation,” he told MCV.
"I have asked my Department to revise its policy guidance to ensure it is also entirely consistent with the 2006 legislation and the revised Ministerial Direction."
Lara Wood from Freedom in Religion in Schools told MCV the Government was putting religious groups before the needs of the children.
“We learned today that ‘religious freedom’ in Australia means that [religious organisations] interest trumps the rights of families in the schools.
ACCESS Ministries is one of the major providers of SRI in Victoria and have welcomed the changes from the Minister of Education.
“ACCESS ministries welcomes the clarification provided in the new ministerial direction,” Dawn Penny, Acting CEO of ACCCESS Ministries told MCV.
MCV understands many schools have pulled out of SRI because of low attendance numbers, and further understand this has occurred since schools have had to ask parents for their children to opt-in to SRI, in line with changes made to the Direction in July.
The DEECD audits how many schools are participate in SRI, and these numbers will be available next term.