School board trying to balance rights and interests in sexuality education
I am on the board of trustees of a public, co-ed primary school board in the Wellington region. We are finding it difficult to reconcile the rights and interests of parents, with the rights and interests of teachers, within a system that should place child welfare at the centre. Some of these rights and interests are colliding with others.
Recently some parents wrote to the board to express their concerns about Navigating the Journey (the sexuality education resource that is informed by the 2020 Ministry of Education RSE guidelines) and its delivery within our school. Their concerns were:
That there had been inadequate consultation on the programme (we aren't due to do our two-yearly consultation until next term, so newer families to the school would not have had a chance for consultation yet)
That parents had not been notified of upcoming sexuality education topics, thereby depriving them of their right to opt out
That material is being shared with students in a way that is not age appropriate.
As a board we accept these are valid criticisms. They have come about due to the behaviour of some teaching staff, who have unilaterally decided that placing limits on discussion of sexuality or gender ideology, for the purposes of the school curriculum, interferes with their right to freely express themselves and that this constitutes discrimination against them. They have also used the s51(3) exemption (that teachers have a right to respond to a child's question in the classroom) to skirt around the requirement to ensure that parents can exercise their opt-out rights in respect of the sexuality curriculum.
The Human Rights Act allows the provision of separate facilities for each sex (s46), which is particularly important for females. How can we as a board, satisfy that expectation of privacy and sex-segregated facilities, when the Ministry of Education guidance encourages children to use the bathrooms and changing spaces that 'aligns with their gender identity'?
Allowing males who identify as female access to female only spaces risks excluding girls from sports and school life. All girls are affected but in particular girls from religious backgrounds such as Muslims, who have strictures against girls sharing private spaces with males. Many of our refugee families come from Muslim countries and policies like these discriminate against and exclude these already marginalised communities.
Navigating the Journey also dictates that schools should 'use people's preferred pronouns'. Using different pronouns is effectively a way of signalling to others belief in gender ideology. As such these 'preferred pronouns' policies run afoul of the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and belief, as enshrined in the Bill of Rights Act.
As a board we are also concerned that there is no risk assessment that has been done by the Ministry on affirming children in different gender identities as the best therapeutic approach for children suffering gender dysphoria. Studies (including evidence presented in the Keira Bell case https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Bell-v-Tavistock-Judgment.pdf), show that many of the young people presenting at gender identity clinics have co-morbid conditions such as anxiety, depression and autistic spectrum conditions. In addition, a number have histories of past trauma, including sexual abuse, and the reason for their discomfort with their bodies deserves better investigation.
In addition, of course, many gender-non-confirming children grow up to be gay. By encouraging affirmation–only approaches, we are, ironically, running the risk of taking part in gay conversion therapy.
The lack of clear guidance from the Ministry of Education in these areas makes us worry that these issues can only be resolved through the courts. That would be a waste of school time and resources, that could be better spent educating our rangatahi and encouraging them to accept themselves and each other, as they are.