Religious education row splits Wellington state school community

Wellington's Khandallah School is the latest in the country to grapple with the vexed issue of religious education in state run schools.

Some parents are seeing red, and it’s parting schoolyard relationships. Source: Seven Sharp

Seven Sharp reports the issue is whether the school should allow opt-in lunchtime religious sessions for children. 

Some parents are seeing red and the issue is parting schoolyard relationships. 

It's proving so divisive that concerned parents reporter Arrun Soma spoke to by phone were happy to talk, but didn't want to be identified, saying it's creating rifts within the community. 

Afraid to speak out, the concerned parents called in the Secular Education Network. 

Mark Honeychurch of the network said religious instruction "can happen in the churches, it can happen at Sunday School on Sunday. It doesn't need to be in the school". 

He said some of the concerned parents are "not atheist, they're not agnostic. They are religious, they just think that religion has no place in school".

The problems started in 2016 when the school held lunchtime religious instruction classes, without telling the Board of Trustees.

Board chair Shaun Twaddle he didn't want to focus on what happened in 2016.

"What I'm focusing on is trying to create an environment which is transparent, and parents knowing what's going on," he said. 

The organisation that provides the content, the Churches Education Commission, says the lessons are values based, using Bible stories. 

It operates in around 600 schools in New Zealand. 

"That's about 60,000 students every week. So there is still a demand, and we actually have waiting lists of schools," said Abbey Reeve of the commission.

Mr Honeychurch said the "values" are "just a way of religious groups having access to schools in order to teach the children about their religious beliefs". 

The school is now developing a policy.  

"We have parents who do have religious views. We have parents with non-religious views. And as a board that is something that we have to navigate," Mr Twaddle said.

The school says any organisation that comes into the school may only teach values and morals. They're not allowed to evangelise, try to convert or hand out lollies.

The school says it welcomes any religion that's interested.