Catholic schools act on bullying in response to Safe Schools agenda
The Australian, June 13, 2016
Victoria’s peak Catholic schools body will branch out on its own to protect gay and transgender children from bullying, recognising the need for an “appropriate” program that does not veer into Safe Schools territory.
Catholic Education Melbourne has set up a “safe and supportive learning communities reference group” that will review anti-bullying procedures in Victorian Catholic schools, with a particular focus on students with gender-identity issues.
The move has the support of the principal of Geelong’s St Joseph’s College, Paul Tobias, who has been requesting CEM review procedures for dealing with homophobic related bullying in schools for 12 years.
St Joseph’s is one of two Catholic schools in Australia taking part in the Safe Schools program, which has been labelled inappropriate by the CEM and the National Catholic Education Commission.
Mr Tobias, who is part of the reference group, said he would consider leaving Safe Schools if the CEM put satisfactory anti-bullying programs in place.
The Safe Schools Coalition will be mandatory in Victorian state schools by 2018, but Catholic and other independent schools are not required to join.
“It is really encouraging that it looks like something is going to happen, although that group has been slow to meet,” Mr Tobias said. “I’m quietly hopeful that we are starting to move in a more positive direction.”
CEM executive director Stephen Elder said the body wanted to reduce bullying and discrimination in Catholic schools: “Underpinned by a Catholic understanding of the human person, the reference group will review current anti-bullying, respectful relationships curriculum resources, to ensure a consistent and best-practice approach (is) identified to support the ongoing work of schools in this area.”
Edmund Rice Education Australia, which governs more than 50 schools, has vowed to act to include gay and transgender students. Executive director Wayne Tinsey wrote to principals a fortnight ago saying he would convene a group to decide “appropriate approaches to issues of inclusion of LGBTI young people”.
“In the midst of polarisation of views, there is space for a considered, compassionate and contemporary Catholic education voice in these issues. Given our charter and clear option for inclusion, I feel that EREA can offer leadership not only to our schools, but to broader Catholic education in an area that clearly calls for prophetic leadership.”
Mr Tobias has fought homophobia since starting at St Joseph’s more than 20 years ago, which is why he thinks being part of Safe Schools is important. The school uses Safe Schools materials as a reference for teachers rather than in classrooms.
He has written to state and education ministers, urging them to revise Safe Schools to make it more palatable to a broader range of parents.