St Hilda's Diocesan High School has responded to accusations by the mother of a student at the Brown's Town-located institution that it discriminated against her daughter when she was relieved of the post of head girl.
Rhonda Clarke is contending that her daughter, Jade Bascoe, was stripped of the position because she was believed to be a member of the Jehovah's Witness faith.
In a statement yesterday, Principal Heather Reid-Johnson said Bascoe's appointment was rescinded as a result of the potential conflict with her religion.
St Hilda's, an Anglican institution, said it has never asked students of other faiths to assume duties that are in conflict with their beliefs and practices.
Meanwhile, attorney-at-law Linton Gordon believes the safest way to deal with religion in schools and avoid conflicts, as in this instance, is by removing religion from schools.
"There are some practices that might violate people's rights, so the safest way is to reduce the extent to which religion is used in schools," Gordon told The Gleaner last night.
Gordon also said the school had done no wrong in the matter, saying the school would, in fact, be at fault if they had allowed her to continue in the position.
Gordon said if there were things that the student, based on her religion, is not supposed to do, but based on her position as head girl would be required to do, the school would then be breaching her rights by putting her in a position where she would then be required to do those things.
"St Hilda's Diocesan High School believes in religious freedom," the statement read.
"Our student body includes many students who are members of other denominations."
The school said: "However, the head girl, as the leader of the student government, is required to perform duties supportive of tenets of the Anglican tradition, which are deeply embedded in the operational policies and procedures of this educational institution."
It added: "As an institution operating under the auspices of the Ministry of Education,
St Hilda's is required to participate in national and civic functions and activities, such as the Independence flag-raising ceremonies and National Heroes Day celebrations, which contribute to the development of our children as future citizens. The inability of a head girl to participate in these events because of religious beliefs would restrict and negatively impact our school's engagement with the wider community of which it is an integral part."
St Hilda's said given the potential conflict that the exercise of such duties would pose for Bascoe and the institution, it felt it would be "unwise to put her in that position".
Earlier this week, Clarke claimed her daughter was not a Jehovah's Witness and that she erred when she indicated that she was on her school application form.
Within the faculty we set out to create an environment where religion is explored in an atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance. We want the girls to be engaged with the insights, philosophies and values that are embedded in our subject matter. Our teachers clearly understand, and are empathetic with, the broad range of perspectives, backgrounds and motivations of our girls.
The Religious Education or RE teachers, in keeping with the Anglican ethos of the school, encourage all the students to express viewpoints and perspectives in relation to religion. Each girl needs to make her own decision about religion. Christianity is presented as a positive life choice and respectfully articulated in relation to other faiths.
Christianity is the primary religion we discuss within RE classes. Nevertheless, alongside of this, a number of the other great and enduring religions are also discussed. The teachers aim to highlight areas of overlap among the world’s religions. Reflecting on common central themes such as social justice and compassion achieves this goal.
In the discussion on Christianity, we highlight the important centrality of Jesus to Christians. In our deeper discussions about Christianity, the teachers discuss a range of perspectives. Some of these would be called traditional conservative perspectives and others would be seen as typical of more liberal positions. We set out to ensure the girls are well-informed. This then forms as a basis for the consideration of their personal responses.
‘Respect’ is stressed in the RE classroom; accordingly, the girls are encouraged to exercise sensitivity and circumspection in sharing their individual voices. We are proud of the school’s multi-cultural, multi-faith environment where, inevitably, many possess different viewpoints.
The specific units of study, at different points, cover themes such as ‘pain and suffering’, ‘social justice’ and ‘identity’, as well as biblical books, evidence for Christian beliefs and alternate faiths. The units have been designed in such a way as to engage the students; in addition, there is an emphasis on the relevance of the topics covered for contemporary life.
Primarily, the teachers adopt an academic approach to RE classes; however, they aim to create the space to experience God and the spiritual dimension via the occasional use of Christian meditation, Christian music and periods of reflection. Games, role-plays, discussion, videos and completion of tasks are all prominent in the RE classroom in addition to the aforementioned. Wide use of the St Hilda’s online learning resources facility, Blackboard, is made and this allows students to access the material outside classes, if they need to for revisions and class discussions. The RE teachers are passionate about the subject; therefore, they provide an enjoyable classroom experience for the girls who, in the vast majority of cases, have a positive reaction to the subject.
Study of Religion
The senior school subject of Study of Religion facilitates the development of an awareness and appreciation of Australia today as a pluralistic society in which a great variety of religious traditions exist side by side. Studying religion can help develop an understanding of the ways in which particular cultural contexts have influenced and continue to influence the formation of an individual’s world view and the framework of beliefs in which it is interpreted. In addition, because students are living in a highly globalised world, the subject provides the opportunity for students to become more effective, sensitive and empathic citizens in the contemporary globalised world.
What do Students Study?
The course is comprised of the following units:
- Religion-State Relationships
- The Practice of Religion in Australia Today
- Sacred Texts
- Religion, Values and Ethics
- Ultimate Question
Study of Religion in the Senior School may be viewed as a number of interrelated activities designed to help students understand:
- The purpose, meaning and significance of religion in the lives of individuals and communities
- Their own patterns of belief, their traditions and the ways in which these contribute to shaping their lives and interpreting their experiences
- Those aspects of human experience that have prompted and continue to prompt the development and acceptance of religious interpretations of life
- The different religious views they are likely to meet in the communities to which they belong
- The impact of religious understandings in shaping world events
- That a commitment to certain beliefs, attitudes and values need not preclude a respect for and a sensitive appreciation of the beliefs, attitudes and values of others
How do Students Approach Study of Religion?
This subject offers an increasing level of challenge to students. Through an inquiry process students are encouraged to identify and analyse moral and ethical issues, develop skills in moral decision-making, justify conclusions and formulate ethical positions.
Students will be involved in such learning experiences as using a variety of media and research techniques to investigate issues, group discussions and debate, reporting, exploring case studies, working independently, site visits and dialogue with the wider community.
How are Students Assessed?
The criteria of knowledge and understanding, evaluative processes and research and communication are assessed through a variety of assessment instruments, including:
- Research assignments and essays
- Multi-modal presentations
- Essay and response to stimulus tests
- Field study reports
Students complete six assessment instruments each year.