Law change would prevent weaponising activists through schools, says education leader

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Dallas McInerney in his office in Sydney. PHOTO: Ben Conolly

Parents, students want education, not ideologies

The chief executive officer of Catholic Schools NSW Dallas McInerney says that a law to prohibit the teaching of gender ideology in schools in the state is a necessary “line in the sand” to support parents as well as to keep political ideology out of teaching materials.

The organisation supports Mark Latham’s ‘Parental Rights Bill’ currently being considered by parliament. The Bill aims to amend the state’s education legislation to ensure parents of students in New South Wales schools are aware of what is taught in their children’s classrooms.

“The Bill on our reading does not and should not limit our capacity to support those students pastorally, physically and educationally – Dallas McInerney, CSNSW

It would stop schools from providing instruction on ideologically-based and political material that is inconsistent with the wishes and values of parents, and give parents the right to withdraw students from classes they object to.

In particular, the Bill seeks to prohibit the promotion of gender fluidity in schools while not affecting the rights of transgender students to support and wellbeing in schools. It has drawn criticism from some groups that believe such a law would ban all discussion of sexuality and gender in classrooms and further marginalise students with gender dysphoria.

Executive director of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, Greg Whitby, broke ranks with peak body Catholic Schools NSW with a separate submission opposing the Latham Bill, stating that it “represents an unacceptable incursion into the professional judgement of Catholic schools and school systems”.

He told media that he believed the Catholic Schools NSW position “is an ill-informed approach to what the issues may or may not be”.

“It’s not for a school or a central office or dare I say even politicians to make those decisions,” he told media. “If you seek to codify those things, you are putting a personal perspective on what’s right and what’s wrong.”

Parents’ and childrens’ rights must come first in the classroom

Mr McInerney told The Catholic Weekly that its submission to a parliamentary inquiry last month was the result of an “extensive consultation” with all 11 of the state’s diocesan school systems and congregational schools.

“It was a very well-informed document, and the end result of a representative exercise to consult far and wide and try to distil a common position for Catholic education on this very important issue and we successfully did that,” said the education leader. “There was one particular schools office who thought they needed to do something different and that’s their prerogative.”

In its submission, Catholic Schools NSW (CSNSW), which represents almost 600 schools, 30,000 staff and 257,000 students, expresses support for the Bill, noting that such a prohibition already exists in the Education Act.

“Since 1880, government schools have been legislatively constrained to only teach religion in a general and neutral way and are prohibited from teaching polemical or dogmatic theology,” the submission said. “Consistent with that precedent, this Bill seeks to prohibit the teaching of gender fluidity ideology.”

However, Mr McInerney said the organisation has not given “a blank cheque” in support of the Bill. “We supported it with three very important contingents; that the professional standing of the teacher cannot be compromised, second, that it wouldn’t inhibit or limit our capacity to support these students in our schools, pastorally and in other ways, and third, that it would not capture and extend to normal discussions of this nature coming up through a student in the classroom in an organic sense,” he said.

He said he was confident that nothing in the Bill would stop or limit a school’s ability to support students in their schools who present with or experience gender dysphoria, and that decisions regarding these were ultimately to be made at the local level.

“There’s a line in the sand where if some activists are going to weaponise the school system against the interests of the parents then we cannot be silent.”

“The Bill on our reading does not and should not limit our capacity to support those students pastorally, physically and educationally,” he said. “The primary attraction to the Bill was that for us it affirmed a key tenant of Catholic teaching and this was an opportunity to have that reflected in an official civil document, namely the Education Act of NSW, that parents are the primary and principal educators of their children.

“It’s not often you get these opportunities to synchronise the canonical and the civil. There’s also the consideration of what properly belongs inside the classroom by way of educational instruction and scholarship and what doesn’t.

“If there are instances where ideology is being advanced through the curriculum and it is taking some of indoctrination or polemical approach to any particular subject area which assumes an outcome or a position without the benefit of discussion or inquiry, that is antithetical to what should be happening in classrooms.

Everyone should be concerned about the potential for ideology to creep into the teaching of any subject in schools, says Catholic education leader Dallas McInerney. PHOTO: Freepik

“There’s a line in the sand where if some activists are going to weaponise the school system against the interests of the parents then we cannot be silent.”

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, who joined with the Maronite Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay in support of the Bill, said in their diocesan submissions that it would promote greater transparency in teaching and resist the undermining of families wishing to pass on values and faith.

In a 27 April pastoral letter Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv confirmed his opposition to the Bill. The lives of students at risk “must not be made more intolerable by unjust laws such as elements of the ‘Latham’ Bill”, he wrote.

“Some have quickly made the judgement that our Catholic education system panders to dangerous ideology. I can assure you that we take all the vital questions of our culture seriously and reflect on them through the prism of Jesus’ solidarity with the marginalised.”

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