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School head calls gay student row 'preposterous'

Principal clarifies that the issue is about teacher standards

An angry outcry by former students has erupted over an open letter written by 34 Anglican schools supporting their right to uphold the Christian ethos of their school in their choice of teachers.

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According to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,  former students from Abbotsleigh and St Catherine’s in Waverley are circulating petitions, while there is also disquiet among graduates of schools such as St Andrew’s, Shore and Roseville College. It said a petition begun by St Luke’s graduate Max Loomes attracted more than 2000 signatures from graduates of many of the schools involved.

However, John Collier, the headmaster of St Andrew’s Cathedral College in the Sydney CBD, argued that the issue had been misunderstood. He said in a letter to parents and students on Friday the argument that schools wanted to discriminate against gay students was “preposterous”.

“We want them to reflect Jesus. However, the aspiration of employing only Christian teachers is currently unattainable, given difficulties with supply.” – John Collier

“I am particularly averse, however, to the notion that the government may dictate to us whom we can and cannot employ,” he said.

“My aversion relates to my experience over 20 years ago as a government school principal, where the Department of Education forced particular teachers on the school I led. I came to the conclusion that some of them were actually clinically insane.

“They were not effective teachers. They did damage to the interests of children.”

Dr Collier confirmed to Eternity yesterday that the school wants the legal right to employ only Christian teachers even though it is not always able to find them.

“By definition they are the ones able to understand, articulate and embody our faith position. Teachers are more than curriculum instructors; their humanity is present with their students. We want them to reflect Jesus. However, the aspiration of employing only Christian teachers is currently unattainable, given difficulties with supply.”

When asked if the school wants the right not to employ teachers who are gay, or in a gay relationship, he said the issue was to do with sexual sin rather than sexual preference.

“The school does not assume any legal right to make enquiries as to sexual preference at the time of employment. Furthermore, it maintains the New Testament ethic that tendency and temptation is not sinful, only actions and practice. In that respect, it makes no distinction between heterosexual or homosexual sin. The school wants the right to dismiss teachers who undermine its ethos. This is not specifically or particularly related to issues of sexuality, but may under some circumstances include sexual behaviour.”

“There is no desire on the part of St Andrew’s Cathedral School to expel students who identify as gay.” – John Collier

Dr Collier emphasised that the staff appointment process “seeks to establish they are outstanding teachers and pastors of young people, who will uphold the school’s Christian ethos.”

“All new staff receive an extensive induction into the culture and ethos of St Andrew’s Cathedral School. My Head’s message to staff articulates the foundations of this periodically, in order to keep our staff aware,” he said.

He reiterated that there was no discrimination against gay students.

“The school enrols students who claim to be gay, aware that for some this identification will remain as a constant, while for others it will change. Irrespective, the school would treat all equally. There is no desire on the part of St Andrew’s Cathedral School to expel students who identify as gay.”

He said the school wanted to avoid the “reductionist focus on issues of sexuality and prohibitions, as if they define Christianity. Of course we seek to maintain a Christian morality and ethic, but these are broad, not narrow, categories.”

Meanwhile, Phillip Heath, head of Barker in Sydney’s north, reportedly wrote a letter to the school community saying he was “sad and dismayed by the grief and anger that has been prompted by my willingness to support the letter from Sydney Anglican Schools.

“It is clear the letter has been perceived as a message of discrimination and cruelty. Such a message was never intended and I am truly distressed to see this impact,” he said.

 

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