Education experts have praised a new policy developed by Catholic schools to combat transphobic and homophobic bullying as a “terrific resource”, saying it proves the messages of the Safe Schools program are compatible with religious education.
The “safe and inclusive learning communities” policy was developed by Edmund Rice Education Australia (EREA), the education arm of the Christian Brothers, which operates more than 50 Catholic schools in Australia.
The policy states that those schools have a responsibility to provide a “safe and inclusive learning environments for all students, in particular for same-sex attracted and gender diverse young people” and argues that position is backed in scripture and by Pope Francis in his Joy of Love address in March 2016.
“Our schools have a moral and legal responsibility to ensure that each student receives an education free from discrimination and bullying irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender,” the policy states. “More importantly, Edmund Rice inspires us to give particular care to young people who might otherwise be excluded and rejected.”
EREA’s executive director, Wayne Tinsey, said the position paper was developed to “help ensure safe, inclusive school communities in which all students felt safe and protected from bullying”.
Victoria Rawlings, a lecturer in education at the University of Sydney and expert on homophobic, transphobic and sexualised bullying in schools, said the EREA position statement was a “step in the right direction” and drew from the same research as the Safe Schools Coalition, which was derided by conservatives as being extreme and incompatible with faith-based schools.
“Catholic schools, as religious organisations, are currently exempt from anti-discrimination legislation,” Rawlings told Guardian Australia. “That’s important to acknowledge because contextually it means that this group of schools has been progressive in taking up a position that focuses on the wellbeing of LGBTIQ students. The crucial thing now is enacting this statement in meaningful ways that impact on school cultures that have often been exclusionary in the past.”
Rawlings said the culture of Catholic and Christian schools had not traditionally been welcoming of gender and sexually diverse students and that the schools themselves usually faced a backlash from parents and the media when they tried to address that gap.
The policy released by EREA preempts some public criticism, providing questions and answers for teachers who feel they should not be discussing gender and sexuality in schools, think the subjects are too controversial, believe there are no LGBTI students in their class, are confronted by parents with concerns it will “confuse the sexual identity of their children”, or are accused of promoting a “homosexual agenda”.
It also assured teaches they would not be fired if they came out as LGBTI.
La Trobe University’s Dr Tim Jones said the position statement was “brilliant” and “should be an embarrassment to the government”, which concluded following a review of the Safe Schools Coalition in 2016 that its resources “may not be suitable for use in some faith-based schools”.
“The Catholic schools are taking that leadership where the government couldn’t,” Jones said.
He said intensive criticism of Catholic schools in the royal commission into institutional responses to child sex abuse had made them more proactive about providing a child-safe environment.
“It doesn’t surprise me that particularly Catholic education, that has been dealing with sexual violence of all kinds for over a decade, would be particularly motivated to reduce sexual violence in the form of bullying in schools,” Jones said. “I don’t think it’s a surprise that it’s the Christian Brothers education which has done the most work.”
Source from The Guardian