A number of Queensland public schools are pressuring parents and carers to accept the continuation of religious-based chaplaincy instead of providing them with a choice of secular wellbeing officers.
The Rationalist Society of Australia (RSA) has viewed a number of communication materials provided to parents and carers as part of what was supposed to be a consultation process to ascertain whether school communities would prefer chaplains or secular wellbeing officers.
When the federal government announced the new National Student Wellbeing Program (NSWP) last year, as the replacement for the school chaplaincy program, education minister Jason Clare said that schools would now have a choice of either a chaplain or a professionally qualified wellbeing officer.
Instead of providing their school communities with a fully informed choice, schools have been steering parents and carers to accept the continuation of chaplaincy.
The Minimbah State School told parents and carers in a Facebook post to “like the post for the continuation of our School Chaplain programme”, and told parents and carers that “Chappy is very aware and supportive of this consultation process”.
At Palmview State Secondary College, parents were sent a link to a one-question survey which asked them to click yes or no to the statement:
“We are supportive of extending the range of support services at Palmview State Secondary College to include applying for funding for a Chaplain…”
In the preamble to the question, the school made it clear it was “keen to apply for funding to expand” the chaplaincy service.
As part of its consultation process, Maleny State High School told parents and carers that it was “seeking consultation with the school community to continue our Chaplaincy services”.
The school’s questions asked two questions, with the first seeking to know whether the respondents’ children had “benefit in any Chaplaincy services or activities previously”, such as the Breakfast Club or lunch time games.
Question 2 required a yes or no response to the statement:
“I support Maleny State High School in the future application to continue Chaplaincy services at Maleny State High School.”
The design of these materials appears to be inconsistent with the Public Sector Ethics Act 1994 (Qld), which requires Queensland public servants to be “honest, respectful and fair” when engaging with the community.
Last week, the RSA reported on another example of where a survey, held as part of the consultation process, had misrepresented the nature of the chaplaincy and student wellbeing officer roles under the NSWP.
It is now understood that the text for that survey was not developed by the Department of Education, but by the school.
RSA president Meredith Doig said education minister Grace Grace should now require all public schools to re-do the consultation process to provide parents and carers with a fair choice between chaplaincy and student wellbeing officers.
Under the new NSWP, there is no difference in the job descriptions of chaplain and student wellbeing officer, and the program is specifically “not a religious program”. However, the only differentiation between the roles is that chaplains are still required to have the endorsement of religious institutions.
Follow the latest developments in our campaign on school chaplaincy here.
Photo by Taylor Flowe on Unsplash.