Bethlehem College students to be interviewed in discrimination probe

Bethlehem College students under fire in Tauranga will be questioned as part of a government review, following revelations of anti-queer discrimination against students.

The Department of Education said the review will have a particular focus on the safety of LBQTIA+ students at the school, which receives state funding.

“We expect that one of the review methods will be a student survey which will help inform how the school can ensure that all students at Bethlehem College are in an emotionally and physically safe environment,” said Jocelyn Mikaere of the Ministry of Education.

“We are in regular contact with the school and have asked the principal and the presiding council member to work with us and the Education Review Office (ERO) to develop a plan to review and resolve the issues of student safety and well-being, especially for Rainbow Youth. ,” she says.

“We also discussed recent concerns raised and how they are being handled by the school.”

Nicholas Pole, exam director at the Education Review Office, the New Zealand government’s external assessment agency, told Stuff this week that he is currently reviewing Bethlehem College.

“Part of this work will include an exploration of recent concerns raised about the school. ERO will report publicly on its findings in due course.

The review follows assurances from Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti that an inquiry into anti-queer discrimination in schools was a ‘top priority’ for the Government, after concerns were raised that some Christian educators had incorporated policies harmful to LGBTQI students.

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A spokesman for the minister said Things that Tinetti wanted to keep all students safe and that it was important that their voices were heard and given the opportunity to participate in any investigation.

The spokesperson confirmed that the Department of Education, along with the Education Review Office, were continuing to investigate all special character schools, including Bethlehem College, to ensure that practices and school policies included all students.

Following their requests, Tinetti will be presented with options for any action required.

Tinetti had distributed guidelines to school boards on bullying earlier this year and now wanted to produce similar guidelines on the inclusivity of LBQTIA children.

Bethlehem College Principal Larne Edmeades informed parents of the upcoming exam in a letter sent this week that Stuff saw.

In the letter, Edmeades said the college had agreed to a review using a number of methods, including a survey of all students in Years 7-13 in the next school term.

The review process was intended to “provide assurance that schools are an emotionally and physically safe environment”, he said.

Edmeades also spoke about removing the school’s controversial marriage statement, which had previously been included in a statement of belief that parents were asked to sign when enrolling their child.

Gordy Lockhart, Tauranga Pride advocate and businessman

Alan Gibson / Stuff

Gordy Lockhart, Tauranga Pride advocate and businessman

The government had asked the school to withdraw the statement following complaints from queer advocates Gordy Lockhart, a businessman from Tauranga, and Shaneel Lal, a law student and activist from Auckland, who wrote to the government demanding a survey of “institutionalized homophobia” in certain countries. New Zealand schools.

As a result of these complaints, discriminatory language about marriage and gender was discovered in the documentation.

The college’s stance on same-sex marriage and gender identity sparked public outrage and sparked allegations that students were being harmed.

Things also revealed that the college has a working paper on gender and that a former trans student at the school tried to end his life after the school refused to use his pronouns, threatened to suspension for wearing a uniform of her preferred gender and telling them, “God doesn’t make mistakes.

Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti

MONIQUE FORD/Stuff

Associate Minister of Education Jan Tinetti

Lockhart told Stuff that while he welcomes any development, he wonders how thorough the investigation will be.

“Clearly, the Education Review Board didn’t pick the issue last time. So what makes them think they’re going to cut to the chase this time around? »

Lockhart also noted that in the letter sent to parents, although the principal said they had not received ‘official complaints’, this did not take into account that pupils may be concerned about coming forward in such a way. public.

“It’s well known that if someone has experienced abuse or discrimination, it’s hard to tell anyone, and certainly not the institution where they experienced it.”

Lockhart hoped the exam would include “an opportunity for students to speak to investigators offsite and anonymously.”

Queer activist Lal said he still believes an independent investigation is necessary for students to feel safe enough to speak out.

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