MP demands schools offer get-out option on gender bully scheme
The Australian, September 15, 2016
Critics of the Safe Schools Coalition want schools that signed up for the anti-bullying initiative before the federal government’s changes this year to go back and ask parents if they should remain in the controversial program.
NSW state Liberal MP Damien Tudehope said that if a “school has already signed up then they don’t have to consult the parent body about continuing in the program but only asking whether they want their children to participate’’.
Mr Tudehope told The Australian: “It’s a significant difference. All schools that signed up should be going back to parents and asking: ‘Do you want us to remain in the program?’ ’’
The MP, a vocal opponent of Safe Schools, has presented a petition on behalf of the Australian-Chinese community to shut down the program, highlighting concerns over whether there is “sufficient parental consent’’. It will be debated in the NSW parliament next week.
The voluntary program gets $2 million annual federal funding and teaches high school students about sexual orientation and transgender issues.
In March, Malcolm Turnbull quelled a backbench revolt by conservative federal MPs by ordering that the Safe Schools Coalition curb its classroom program, giving parents the right to remove their children from lessons or activities. The overhaul included developing an official fact sheet for parents, which will be distributed soon.
The booklet, obtained by The Australian, says: “Safe Schools Coalition Australia is a national initiative that helps schools to be safe and more inclusive for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students, staff and families.
“It provides a range of free support for school staff, including professional learning, advice and resources.’’
In line with the government’s recommendations, it says schools “must communicate with parents and carers about any plans to use the All of Us resource, including participation options’’. The All of Us resource is designed to be used by teachers in Years 7 and 8.
The guidelines also state: “Schools must seek agreement from the representative parent body (or equivalent) prior to signing up as a member of Safe Schools Coalition Australia.’’ It is understood that where schools signed up to the coalition before the March changes, they do not need to go back and obtain the retrospective approval of parent bodies unless they plan to use the All of Us teaching resources.
NSW originally had 120 schools registered on the Safe Schools Coalition website but a parliamentary estimates committee heard last month that when the department was implementing the federal changes, “we determined that there were 89 of those schools that had never accessed resources — they had registered but they had no intention in the immediate future to do that’’.
But the Australian Christian Lobby and the anti-Safe Schools parents’ group You’re Teaching Our Children What? argue that more needs to be done on parental consent.
A Queensland Education Department spokeswoman said “students will not participate in any class lessons conducted by their teachers involving Safe Schools Coalition materials without the prior consent of their parents’’. NSW, South Australia and Western Australia echoed the comment.
A Safe Schools Coalition Australia spokeswoman said “under the revised Safe Schools platform, schools who are looking to become formal members of the program must seek endorsement from the principal and representative parent body’’. The coalition says it has 545 member schools.