Schools Jewish group seeks to ensure continued religious instruction

Jews fight religion policy

Benjamin Preiss - Education Reporter

The Jewish instruction provider for state schools is seeking legal advice to ensure its lessons remain available amid concerns that new conditions will undermine cultural diversity.

The United Jewish Education Board has told parents it is exploring “all avenues, including legal options” so Jewish children can continue to receive special religious instruction.

The letter to parents comes after the Education Department issued a new ministerial directive in May that said schools could withdraw from religious instruction programs if there were insufficient resources. The directive also said religious instruction sessions must be “clearly opt-in” for parents.

“We are monitoring these developments very closely as we are concerned that some schools may not be in a position to deliver special religious instruction under the new framework,” the United Jewish Education Board letter said.

Principals must offer religious instruction to parents if their school is approached by accredited instructors who indicate they are available to run the sessions.

The board’s president, Yossi Goldfarb, said he was seeking legal advice about whether the new conditions would contravene the Multicultural Victoria Act.

Mr Goldfarb said cultural and religious diversity in schools would be threatened if principals began withdrawing religious instruction for Jewish children. “We see it as a cornerstone of multicultural Victoria,” he said.

Mr Goldfarb said the number of Jewish state school students joining religious instruction had in-creased by about 30 per cent during the past five years.

The United Jewish Education Board operates in 37 state schools, attracting about 1300 students. It offers instruction to schools with as few as three Jewish students.

Mr Goldfarb estimated more than 90 per cent of Jewish families in state schools receive religious instruction. He said the instructors had no interest in proselytising but sought to convey the “cultural, historical and national” aspects of Judaism.

Students who participate in religious instruction must now also be supervised by a teacher from the school. But Mr Goldfarb said many Jewish instructors were already qualified teachers so it made little sense to have them supervised by another teacher.

Bentleigh East mother Michelle Morgan said she supported Jewish instruction for her six-year-old daughter, Kayla, because it ensured there was a base level of education in Judaism for Jewish children. “They’re getting something out of it,” she said.

Religions for Peace Australia chairman Des Cahill said he was concerned that children from faiths with small numbers at schools could miss out on instruction in their religion because of the new directive. His organisation co-ordinates instruction in the Buddhist, Baha’i, Greek Orthodox, Hindu and Sikh traditions.

Professor Cahill, an RMIT ex-pert in intercultural studies, said education about the world’s religions should be included in the general school curriculum.

An Education Department spokesman said the rules for special religious instruction (SRI) were the same for all providers.

Fairness in Religions in School campaign member Scott Hedges said he had not received any complaints from Jewish families about the content of the Jewish Education Board’s sessions. However, he said a small number of Jewish families had expressed their opposition to religious instruction in state schools.

b.preiss@theage.com.au

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From: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/jewish-group-fears-new-religious-instr...