Bethlehem College is inviting people with “hurts and concerns from their time at the school” to get in touch with them directly.
“Our heart and desire is to deal with complaints in an open and honest manner, exercising care to preserve relationships, grace, forgiveness and love,” says Board of Trustees chair Paul Shakes in a statement released this week.
The college has come under fire recently following a protest against bullying on Friday, June 10.
A group of students at Bethlehem College were taking part in the International Day of Silence against bullying when they were allegedly targeted by a number of opposing students from the same college.
In response to the allegations, Bethlehem College board of trustees chair Paul Shakes says the school immediately began an in-depth investigation into the claims, and reviewed CCTV footage as well as interviewing students.
“Some other students responding to the protest did not meet the standards of behaviour we require of our school community,” says Shakes.
“Specifically, two pieces of fruit were thrown - an apple, and a banana or part of a banana - which struck one of the protesters. We are also aware that some students made offensive comments, though we are still verifying exactly what was said.
“We don’t tolerate bullying and expect our students to act in good faith and to show civility and tolerance for differing views, and students who breached our standards will face disciplinary action.”
Since then, past students have come forward about their time at the school.
The Ministry of Education is also looking at whether Bethlehem College has met their obligations to the government.
“We were made aware that point 13 had been added as an additional statement when a complaint was made to the Minister,” says Ministry of Education Te Tai Whenua (Central) Hautū (Leader) Jocelyn Mikaere.
“This statement was not included in the College’s Integration Agreement entered into with the Minister of Education in 1999.”
The Christian Education Trust Statement of Belief that underpins the school’s Special Character Point 13 reads; “In the beginning God created male and female. Marriage is an institution created by God in which one man and one woman enter into an exclusive relationship intended for life, and that marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations”.
Bethlehem College is a Christian-based composite school made up of students from Years 1 to 13, with predominantly Pakeha students but also Māori, Chinese, Indian, Asian and Pacific students.
The college’s strategic plan includes the objective: “To grow in love of God; to love one another; to respect diversity; to show kindness; to collaborate; to contribute; to nurture good friendships”.
The Bethlehem College Christian worldview is further set out in their Statement of Special Character.
The Ministry of Education says that any proposed changes or additions to the Integration Agreement need to be considered by the Minister’s delegate.
“In May, we verbally advised the Principal and Board of Trustees, along with the Deputy Chair of the Christian Education Trust that point 13 must be removed,” says Mikaere.
“We are expecting a response from the school following the Board of Trustees and the Christian Education Trust meeting this month.
“We can consider possible interventions we have received their response.”
“We believe we are adhering to all relevant legislation, including the Human Rights Act and the Education and Training Act, and we are continuing to consult a range of resources, including material published by the Human Rights Commission,” Bethlehem College Board of Trustees chair Paul Shakes says in a statement released on Tuesday.
“As the Human Rights Commission notes, it is lawful—and in fact mandatory—for religious state integrated schools, like Bethlehem College, to give preferential enrolment to students who have a connection to the religious special character beliefs of the school. Religious state integrated schools that have religious instruction as part of their special character also have a legal responsibility to ensure that religious instruction, in keeping with their special character, continues to form part of the school programme of education.
“As part of implementing our school’s Christian special character, we strive to provide a loving and caring environment for all students, and we take seriously our duty to provide every child entrusted to us with the greatest level of care and protection.
“We think our Christian beliefs actually support and enhance the health and wellbeing of our students. As our most recent Education Review Office report notes, our special Christian character “contributes to a strong sense of wellbeing and belonging for students”.
“We appreciate that, for some, Christian beliefs can feel personally hurtful. Our message to those people is that our intention is certainly not to be hurtful. We believe God loves them and desires only the absolute best for them. Our motivation for continuing to hold mainstream Christian beliefs is because we believe they lead to human wellbeing and flourishing.
“If there are people with hurts or concerns from their time at Bethlehem College, our message is to please be in touch directly so we can address them with you.”