A parent of a Mandurah student has sparked a clash between local politicians over a controversial gender-identity program, which was proposed for Halls Head College.
Staff from the government funded Safe Schools Coalition, which has attracted criticism in federal parliament for the content of its program for gay, lesbian and transgender students, pitched the program to the school board and staff last week, prompting parents to speak out.
One parent, who asked to remain anonymous but who is active in the school community, said they were concerned about the content of Safe Schools and that the school had not consulted parents before inviting its organisers to present an information session.
“I am very concerned that consultation is minimal and that there is no obligation on the school to listen or to take into consideration the concerns of the parents,” the parent said.
They said the school was planning to write to the parents of students by the end of the year, with feedback going to the school board.
“It’s a concern that parents will not receive any information about what’s in the program,” they said.
“It’s like a tip of an iceberg parents will not see – all they’ll see is that it’s a program about bullying and it’s a wonderful program, but they will not see that underneath is a program of indoctrinating kids in the concepts of gender fluidity and a non-binary gender ideology.”
This is not about education, it’s indoctrination – it’s put into the school under the guise of science and it’s anything but – in fact it’s contrary to what we’d expect the students to learn in biology.Concerned Halls Head parent
The Safe Schools program was aimed at making schools “inclusive for same-sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students”.
It advises teachers to avoid using “heterosexist” phrases such as “ladies and gentlemen” or “boys and girls”, encourages the use of “safe spaces” and shows teachers how to “model correct language use” by teaching students words such as “queer”, “pansexual”, “sister girl” and “trans guy”.
Labor’s candidate for the seat of Dawesville Adam Woodage initially said he had not heard of the program, but later released a statement that said he would throw his “full support” behind the school if it wanted to implement the program.
“Like every school in WA, Halls Head College will make its own judgement as to whether Safe Schools meets a particular need; and decide which elements of the program are educationally suitable for the school community,” he said.
“If they believe the Safe Schools program will assist students, then they have my full support.”
Mr Woodage’s campaign manager Oskar Lim, who is also a teacher at Halls Head College, did not comment on the program but spoke in favour of the program at a Save Safe Schools rally in April.
In April, the Labor party promised to pay for Safe Schools in Western Australia if the federal government withdrew funding, a commitment of $1.4 million to be taken over four years from existing school budgets.
However, both the Liberal candidate for Dawesville Zak Kirkup and Canning MP Andrew Hastie blasted the Safe Schools program.
“I think it's a radical social programming agenda disguised as an anti-bullying campaign; it's a Trojan horse that actively isolates and exploits lesbian, bisexual and gay students just to execute an ideological position,” Mr Kirkup said.
“We already have schools in Mandurah that are safe.
“It's part of the ideological agenda by what I consider academic elites to use language like ‘safe schools’ to imply that a school is not safe if it does not have it. It's unfortunate but that is exactly the way they're pursuing what I think is a radical agenda.”
He said it was abhorrent that Labor would take money from existing school budgets for a program that “isolates and exploits LGBTI students for an ideological position”.
Mr Hastie praised the state government’s independent schools program, which he credited for the low uptake of the Safe Schools program in Western Australia.
“My view has always been that the government should not interfere with the way parents raise their children and this program at its heart is designed to cleave the parent-child relationship and advance a radical, unscientific ideology,” he said.
“This is using the guise of an anti-bullying program but really it's radical gender fluidity ideology.”
Education department executive director Lindsay Hale said Halls Head College had approached Safe Schools Coalition about their program, there had been no pressure for the school to join and they had decided “not to register”.
“Schools strive to provide safe learning environments for all students regardless of gender identity, race, religion or sexual orientation,” he said.
“Principals, in consultation with their school communities, are best placed to decide which programs will address the needs of their students.
“The Safe Schools Coalition advise schools registered with the program around parental consent and we would expect the coalition to work directly with schools to ensure those requirements are met.”
A spokesperson for the Safe Schools Coalition Australia (SSCA) said the program was voluntary and exists because “teachers and educators are asking for additional support and advice regarding how to build more inclusive school environments for LGBTI young people”.
“School leadership are best placed to make decisions about what is appropriate in a school environment, and of course parents should also make decisions about what they want for their children’s education,” she said.
“To become a formal member of the program schools require endorsement from the principal and their representative parent body.
“SSCA always encourages parents who have questions about the program to contact the SSCA office or alternatively speak with their school leadership.”