"The Safe Schools" Program
The Safe Schools program, and some of the resources used by that program, have recently been the focus of considerable controversy.
The Casey Multi-Faith Network stands for peace, harmony and understanding. We have been asked to state our views on the Safe Schools controversy. We have been asked this, because some people from some of the faith traditions we represent, feel that there is a conflict between their faith, and some of the materials being made available in schools.
In summary, the Casey Multi-Faith Network notes:
- The Casey Multi-Faith Network believes that all people have a right to share their views and to do so in safety without recrimination or abuse. We believe in freedom of speech for all. No one (on either end of any debate) should be treated with contempt because of their views.
- Regarding the recent controversy, there is an important difference to be noted between “The Safe Schools Program” and an independent resource provider called “The Safe Schools Coalition”.
- “The Safe Schools Program” is first and foremost about "anti-bullying" - and the goal of the program is to help children to be more tolerant and gracious towards those who are different to them.
- The Casey Multi-Faith Network applauds that goal. It is right to train our children to live well with all other people.
- “The Safe Schools Coalition” provides resources to support the Safe Schools Program, and some of their resources are the focus of the recent controversy.
- The Casey Multi-Faith Network believes that when resources are being selected for use in any school, the teachers and school leadership can be expected to act with professionalism and sensitivity.
- Having said that, it is clear that some of the material offered by the Safe Schools Coalition, is quite explicit and it offends and shocks some members of the community. Questions have been raised by concerned parents and members of the public regarding age appropriateness, some of the suggested activities students are encouraged to do, and some of the links to other websites that come with the material.
- When controversial material is being used, it needs parent input and agreement. If consensus cannot be found, then it requires parent permission for their children to be exposed to that material.
The Casey Multi-Faith Network longer statement on the Safe Schools Program:
Like many controversial issues, this one certainly causes people to react with emotion and passion – at both ends of the debate. Let it be noted from the start that the Casey Multi-Faith Network believes that all people have a right to share their views and to do so in safety without recrimination or abuse. We believe in freedom of speech for all. No one should be treated with contempt because of their views.
Finding reliable information has been challenging. There are extremist statements begin made on each end of the debate. From: "If you don't support this program and all its resources unthinkingly and totally - then you are homophobic and support bullying that leads to kids committing suicide!" ... to: "If you support this program you are undermining capitalism and working to destroy families in Australia!"
Getting past all the extremist voices:
It seems to us at the Casey Multi-Faith Network, that the Safe Schools program is first and foremost about "anti-bullying" - and the goal of the program is to help children to be more tolerant and gracious towards those who are different to them. We applaud that goal. It is right to train our children to live well with all other people.
It has also become apparent that the controversy around the Safe Schools program, is in some of the materials that are being made for it. The material that is in question is significantly about gay, lesbian, transgender, and inter-sex children - and how we should not discriminate against, or bully, such people.
The specific resources that are falling into question are those supplied by the organisation "Safe Schools Coalition". That group is not the same as "The Safe Schools Program". The Safe Schools Coalition is an independent private group that make resources and make them available (The Safe Schools Coalition is an independent private group that make resources for schools). Their materials are not the only materials used by "The Safe Schools Program" but they are the controversial materials.
Some members of the community are getting upset because they feel that the resources provided by the Safe Schools Coalition, are too sexually explicit, or age inappropriate (for years 7 and 8 students: that is 11-13 year olds). Also, some of the suggested activities you can do with your class, (some of the role plays etc), are offensive to certain members of various faith communities (and some people of no faith, for that matter). And some of the resources provided to young teenagers are questioned because of certain links that are in them: links to other web sites that are normally for over 18 year olds.
What also troubles some of our members, is that the material is being used often without parent permission. Recall: parent permission was needed for a child to sit in on a religious instruction class (taken by a Christian or Buddhist or Jewish religious teacher) because of the ethical and philosophical material being presented. If that was deemed necessary then, similar parent permission should be applied to this particular material that also has philosophical and ethical implications.
It should be noted that schools do not yet have to be a part of "The Safe Schools Program". This is going to change in the next couple of years, we are told. Even then, schools do not have to use material from "The Safe Schools Coalition" (at least at the moment they don't have to). Nevertheless, many do use their materials, and they seem to be endorsed by the Department of Ed because they are turning up in many schools.
Until this topic became a hot potato in recent weeks, many schools did not seek parent input about using those more sexually focused materials. The Casey Multi-Faith Network believes it is always wise to consider parent sensitivities when it comes to controversial materials being used for their children, in schools.
We don't want to end the discussion here though. We need to also point out that the Casey Multi-Faith Network is a collaboration of many different faiths, and many different people in those faiths. We don't all agree among ourselves on gay and gender-identity issues, and how they should be understood or worked with. Some faiths have certain members now who are calling for renewed attitudes towards these issues (in the light of greater understanding about human biology, DNA, psychology, and more). Others reject such calls and hold to a more conservative view on these things: a more traditional approach. We find it impossible to give a single voice to this topic, just as society as a whole can’t seem to either.
But what we can say, with unity and absolute clarity, is that we agree that all members of our community should be taught to be compassionate, tolerant, gracious, accepting, and inclusive. Bullying for any reason is wrong, and needs to be resisted and taught against. Materials used for such lessons should be broad based, and cover all kinds of bullying scenarios. If parent permission is not sought, then the examples used should be general, without detail, or links, that will offend some of the members of the community.