How Should I Respond to 'Safe Schools'? Advice for Parents - Hope 103.2

How Should I Respond to ‘Safe Schools’? Advice for Parents

To help parents of faith, teachers & youth workers in thinking about the Safe Schools Program, we’ve gathered the advice of 3 Christian leaders & educators.

By Clare BruceFriday 8 Jul 2016NewsReading Time: 6 minutes

Listen: Stephen O’Doherty shares his advice for parents on the Safe Schools program

Part 3 of the 5-part Safe Schools Series 

Whether you’re in support of the Safe Schools Coalition or not, there’s no denying the research statistics showing that many students are experiencing same sex attraction and gender diversity, and suffering mentally and emotionally as a result of bullying.

But does the Safe Schools Program for year 7 and 8 students tackle this problem well? Is it age-appropriate? Are the classroom videos and exercises helpful? Do the discussions promote a positive world view? And where do parents fit in?

To help parents, teachers and youth workers think through the issues and decide how they want to respond, we’ve gathered the advice of three Christian leaders – experts in their fields of Christian education, sexology and pastoral care.

“Look At The Program, Ask Questions”

Christian Schools Australia CEO, Stephen O’Doherty

Stephen O’Doherty is the head of Christian Schools Australia, a network of around 140 faith-based schools around the nation.

Hope 103.2 is proudly supported by

In an interview with Hope Media, he talked about the Safe Schools program’s philosophy and suggested parents ask their school what is being taught on sexuality.

“Parents have the responsibility and the obligation to ask questions,” he said.

“Any parent should ask, ‘What are my children going to be taught in the area of sexuality, gender? What ideology lies behind that? What’s the worldview of the people who put the program together? Can I see what material the kids are going to be exposed to?’

“Children have the right to be brought up in the faith community of their parents, and for that to be reflected in their education…”

“These are issues, firstly for parents to discuss with their kids, and secondly, for the parents’ community of faith, if they’ve chosen one, to discuss with the kids – whether that’s the Christian faith, the Islamic faith, the Jewish faith, whatever it may be. They need to talk to the school and make a choice about whether they ask for the child to be excluded from those lessons – which is never actually a good look, it actually makes the child a target – or choose a school that’s more in keeping with their family’s values.”

He said parents had the right to raise their children according to the beliefs of their faith and that should be respected by schools.

“We’re a signatory to the United Nations Covenants that say children have the absolute right to be brought up in the faith community of their parents, and for that to be reflected in their education, should they choose,” he said. “This is not just something that the Victorian government or someone in the Safe Schools Coalition can override.”

“Empower Your Kids With Knowledge”

Sexologist, Dr Patricia Weerakoon

Patricia Weerakoon

Dr Patricia Weerakoon is a respected sexologist with a Christian faith, based in Sydney. In a recent column for the Bible Society’s Eternity Magazine, she advised parents to be actively involved in teaching their kids about sexuality.

She takes the Biblical view that “man and woman were created for each other”, but says children should be taught acceptance of those who are different.

“I continuously encourage parents that from the time children are really, really young, we should teach them that, firstly, all people are created in the image of God, that we are a fallen people and things go wrong with everything in our life including our gender, the way we see our gender, the way we are attracted to people,” she says.

While this view flies in the face of the Safe Schools Coalition teaching, which aims to break down the ‘heteronormative’ view of the world, Dr Weerakoon is unapologetic about her Biblical stance.

“What we’re saying is that all diversity exists, but that doesn’t mean all diversity needs to be celebrated.”

“We need to teach our kids early and providing knowledge and values so they’re empowered. So that even in public schools, where they are being taught to celebrate diversity, they can say, ‘I don’t hate you, but if you ask me, I have to say that the Bible says that man and woman were created for each other. But I’m called to love you and accept you for who you are, like me: made in the image of God.’

“We need to prepare our children early so when they’re hearing the message that all diversity must be celebrated, they can go ‘OK, I hear you. But what we’re saying is that all diversity exists, but that doesn’t mean all diversity needs to be celebrated.’ There’s a difference.”

Parents should teach their children not to have an ‘us and them’ mentality, she said.

“That makes us seem like we’re wearing the cap of homophobic, transphobic, bigoted… And that’s not what God calls us to be. God calls us to be compassionate and to stand for biblical truth.”

Have Age-Appropriate Conversations

Rob Buckingham, Pastor, Bayside Church in Melbourne 

Rob Buckingham

Pastor Rob Buckingham, a minister from Melbourne’s Bayside church and a blogger, oversees a church campus in Frankston—the same town where some parents have pulled their children out of the public high school (Frankston High School) as a result of the Safe Schools Program.

In blog post titled ‘Safe Schools Program: What’s All The Fuss?’, Pastor Buckingham said he didn’t want to see the program shut down, but supported the government’s adjustments to the curriculum.

“Having a school program that is aimed at increasing our understanding of one another and decreasing bullying is a worthy goal, but I believe the current Safe Schools program is too narrow,” he wrote. “While it’s more than appropriate to educate teenagers about the diversity of human sexuality, it’s also vital that we educate them about diversity in other areas too – such as culture, race, and religion.”

“Parents should be allowed to choose when, where and how they talk to their children about LGBTI issues.”

He encouraged parents to talk to their school staff, “ask good questions”, and talk to their children. “Ask them what they’re learning at school and allow good discussion to occur,” he writes. “[My wife] Christie and I have wonderful conversations with our girls on a whole range of subjects. We’ve talked about how important it is to be kind and respectful to all people including LGBTI people.”

He believes parents should teach their children about the “difference between acceptance and agreement”. “Just because we accept someone, and choose to be kind and gracious towards him or her, doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything they do, say or believe.”

Pastor Buckingham also points out the importance of keeping conversations age-appropriate. “We speak in much more detail with our 17 year old than we do with our 14 year old,” he says. “Our seven year old is too young for in-depth discussion on human sexuality. We’re trying to allow her to maintain the innocence that a seven year old should be able to enjoy. Parents should be allowed to choose when, where and how they talk to their children about LGBTI issues.”

Where Do Parents Fit Into The Safe Schools Program?

Father talking to teen daughter

Since the March 2015 review, the Federal Government has made changes to include parents in the decision making process around the Safe Schools program. While the Victorian government under Daniel Andrews has refused to make these changes, in other states, the following requirements now apply:

  • Parental consent is now required for students to participate in lessons and activities. (Students still have the right to seek counselling services without parental permission.)
  • Relevant parent bodies now have to sign off on their school’s participation, and will also have a say in the extent of participation and any associated changes to school policies.
  • An official SSCA fact sheet for parents will be developed explaining the content and resources that may be used.
  • A resource will also be developed for parents of students dealing with questions of sexual or gender identity developed, for distribution only by key qualified staff.