Sensitive negotiation has been carried out by the New Zealand Catholic Education Office over the protection of special character provisions in state-integrated Catholic schools, especially as related to the Christian position on marriage and the pastoral care of LGBTQI+ students.
In the chairperson’s report in the NZCEO Annual Report 2022, the late Geoff Ricketts wrote that such negotiation took place “to avoid a legal battle over the obligation placed on proprietors in [current law] to protect and promote special character”. (The report noted that Mr Ricketts died on March 10, as the report was going to print.)
In his chairperson’s report, Mr Ricketts wrote that “the Christian position on marriage became a focus when the media reported on schools that they viewed as not providing a safe and inclusive environment for LGBTQI+ students. The office, on behalf of APIS (The Association of Proprietors of Integrated Schools), worked in the background with all parties to attempt to resolve this issue, but it still remains an area of some contention, and NZCEO will continue to negotiate and mediate in the background”.
Mr Ricketts also stated that, “for our Catholic state-integrated schools, the emotion was taken out of this issue through the New Zealand Catholic Bishops releasing the Aroha and Diversity in Catholic Schools document [in 2022].
“This document outlines the pastoral response of the Church to working with LGBTQI+ students in our Catholic schools, while emphasising that it is not a theological document changing the Church’s position or beliefs,” Mr Ricketts stated.
“The bishops have asked that our schools welcome, support and journey with these students, in the context of a recognition that every human being has innate dignity and is created in the image of God. It reinforces the approach that our Catholic schools have been taking over the last decade or more.”
At the start of his report, Mr Ricketts noted that the NZCEO has had to “walk a path balanced between sensitive negotiation and assertive defence of principles” in 2022.
An example of an assertive defence of principles was a successful judicial review which stated that “our proprietors now have a legal precedent that protects their right to request donations in support of their role in protecting and promoting special character (and for other reasons not restricted by the [Education and Training] Act ), as well as allowing a proprietor to donate funds to a school board in support of their education role”.
“Ensuring that state-integrated schools continue to enjoy what is theirs by right has been a constant theme over the last few years,” he added.
The report also mentioned that the NZCEO has concerns that its ability to advocate at government level through its CEO, and give voice to those issues of importance to the sector, “has been seriously constrained over the last two years”.
“While understanding of the high workload caused by the pandemic for our cabinet ministers, the state-integrated school sector is a significant part of the state education system, and must have the opportunity to interact with the Government in the best interests of our students, staff, families and proprietors,” Mr Ricketts stated.
The report also noted that “two of the biggest challenges facing our proprietors and the state- integrated sector are the high costs of insurance for school property and buildings, and the limited amount of Policy Two funding available from the Government to support the costs of building new schools”.
Policy Two funding may be provided by the Ministry of Education towards the costs of building new classrooms in an existing state-integrated school (usually related to roll growth), or in a new state-integrated school.
“Both of these challenges impact our families through the increase of attendance dues to match the rising costs,” Mr Ricketts wrote.
“At current rates, the cost of building a new secondary school is approximately $100,000 per student, resulting in costs of $50-$100M. We believe that, where a state-integrated school is saving the Ministry of Education from having to build further state school capacity, Policy Two funding should be assured. These two issues are examples of why it is so important that we have a direct voice into the Government.
“The NZCEO board has asked the CEO to engage with the Government to find an immediate resolution to the current situation. The recent emerging relationship with [Education] Minister [Jan] Tinetti is one bright spot with respect to this issue.”
The report also stated that “our current relationship with the Ministry of Education is very positive. From time to time, there are difficult issues to resolve, and our CEO appreciates the positive and constructive manner in which the staff in the Ministry of Education approach these discussions”.
APIS has a meeting scheduled with Minister Tinetti on May 17.