Is your school breaking the law?

Here are some ways that your school may be breaking the law if they are conducting Religious Instruction;

  1. Make sure that your legal right to Opt-out is being met.
  2. People teaching RI should be volunteers, insure they are not being paid.
  3. Check if your school is open for regular teaching (excluding Bible class) for at least 2 hours before and 2 hours (as per the act) after midday for the required number of half days, as specified by the ministry at http://www.minedu.govt.nz/theMinistry/EducationInNewZealand/SchoolTermsAndHolidays/2013SchoolTermsAndHols.aspx.  If not, they may not be meeting their required number of half days.
    Example: In 2012, Red Beach School had 50min lunch at 12:20 plus 30min bible class, school ends at 3pm. That’s 3 hours minus 1 hour 20 mins …equals 1 hour 40min ‘instruction’, 20mins less than the required 2 hours.  There is currently a complaint before the Ombudsman about Red Beach Schools hours after they failed to respond to complaints to the principal and board of trustees.  Also see http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/education/8605254/Parent-irked-at-bible-lessons-shortcut
  4. The advertising standards authority may uphold a complain if informaton has been intentionaly misleading.  To make a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority go to their website.  In 2007 a complaint was upheld against the Churches Education Commission (CEC) to see the details click here.

It is important that schools conduct Religious Instruction within the legal allowances.  To complain if your school is not meeting their legal obligations we recommend;

  1. Raise your issue with the Head Teacher/Principal with a face to face meeting (this can be more effective than a letter),
  2. If you do not get a satisfactory response from the Principal write to the Board of Trustees,
  3. If you still do not get a satisfactory response write to the office of the onbudsman,

As a last resort and after trying all of the above, you may consider getting some legal advice.  YouthLaw may be able to provide free legal advice if you are on a low income.

sample letter to the Office of the Onbudsman – School not open required Hours

(some information has been omited to avoid directly identifying individuals)

Office of the Ombudsman
info@ombudsman.parliament.nz
 
To whom it may concern,
This letter is a complaint about XXXX Primary School Board of Trustees.  Children at XXXX School have not receiving the required number of days of education.
Responsibility to be open for instruction
Every board of trustees shall ensure that each school it administers is open for instruction every year on the number of half-days set by the Minister of Education. – Education Act 1989 Section 65A
For several years now XXXX Beach School has been closing classes for Religious Instruction, some classes in the afternoon. During religious instruction my daughter is sat in a corner by herself, she receives no instruction.  For example my daughter’s class, RMX, closed for 30 minutes at 12:20, then lunch for 50 minutes. The school day ends at 3pm. These two breaks left her class open for instruction only 1 hour 40 minutes these afternoons.
 
 I’m sure you’re aware:
State primary schools to be kept open at certain times
…every State primary school shall be kept open 5 days in each week for at least 4 hours each day, of which hours 2 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon shall be and the teaching shall be entirely of a secular character. – Education Act 1964 Section 77.
The class has religious instruction 40 times per year. Each time the class is closed my daughter technically loses one half-day of instruction.  That’s 40 half days not legally open for instruction. 40 Half days is 4 weeks short of XXXX Schools legal responsibility to keep these classes open. 
 
On 22nd March 2012 I informed the Principal, XXXXXX XXXX, of the School breaking the law.  I didn’t hear back from her, but my daughter’s class, Room 2, had Religious Instruction re-scheduled to 9:05 am.  I took that to be Ms XXXX acting on my information.
Three months later I noticed XXXX School’s Religious Instruction classes had simply been re-scheduled.  Now other classes were running Religious Instruction in the afternoon instead. (See attached schedule).
 
 The Education Act requires the school to seek written permission from the Ministry of Education in cases where the school has not met its requirement to be open for instruction.  I’m not aware of the Principal or Board obtaining written permission from the Ministry to close some classes for these half days as required by the Act.   
 
I have since complained to the Principal and Board again in writing.  I attended a board meeting where my letter was read and spoke to the Board for about an hour. The response was that they were not concerned. Principal XXXX XXXXXX told me schools often ‘bent’ the rules.  I have received no written reply to my complaint.
What concerns me is the importance of this breach.  What is more fundamental than keeping the school open? Secondly the scale of the error – missing 40 half-days education is a significant error.
 
What action would I expect?
  • I am very concerned that my daughter is missing her legally required education.  I expect you to ask XXXX School Board in writing to stop breaking the law.
  • I expect you to enforce the legal requirement for the XXXX School board to seek permission in writing from the Ministry of Education for not meeting its responsibility to remain open for instruction in 2011 and 2012.
  • I expect a written response from you explaining how the all affected pupils of XXXX School will be able to make up the lost weeks of instruction.   
  • I expect the parents of children who have not received the required education to be informed in writing that their child’s classroom is being closed for Religious Instruction and this has resulted in the required teaching days not being met. I think this is cause for a formal apology to parents.  I don’t expect my daughter alone to be singled out for make-up classes, 100’s of pupils are affected by this.
 
Looking forward to your response,
 
Yours sincerely,