Students plead for Government to overturn its decision to end chaplaincy program

Lachlan Roberts 1 November 2019 9
Yvette Berry

Education Minister Yvette Berry said religious chaplains were incompatible with the secular operation of public schools. Photo: File.

Students are pleading for the ACT Government to overturn its decision to end the chaplaincy program in local public schools, launching a campaign to have the role reinstated.

Earlier this year, Education Minister Yvette Berry announced her decision to end the National School Chaplaincy Program in public schools in 2020, saying chaplains would be replaced by qualified youth and social workers to service the whole school.

Ms Berry said ACT public schools were required under the Education Act to operate in a secular, non-sectarian way and religious chaplains were incompatible with this objective.

School Chaplaincy ACT is calling on the ACT Government to immediately reverse what they believe is a “baffling” decision, particularly in the light of last month’s parliamentary inquiry called for more resources and support workers to combat bullying in schools.

School Chaplaincy ACT chief Peter James has launched a Save our School Chaplains campaign alongside former students and parents, saying the ACT Government made the decision without any school or community consultation.

Former Hawker College student Jessica Gantenbein credits her chaplain with helping her to survive school after she started to suffer daily panic attacks.

“I was having around three panic attacks a day. It was really debilitating and my grades started to drop,” Ms Gantenbein shared. “It was hard to get out of bed.

“My chaplain was the most available and accessible to talk to. The chaplain was the only person I felt comfortable talking to because others were on staff and therefore there was a lot more legalism.

“I am not sure if I would have finished school without a chaplain. I don’t think I would have ever turned to a teacher or a counselor because I didn’t feel as comfortable. They feel more like an authority figure while a chaplain felt like a friend.”

Mr James said that in a typical week every chaplain has around 40 supportive conversations with students, teachers and parents, with the top five issues being friendship and peer issues, school behaviour, bullying, family breakdown and mental health.

He said he was inundated with frustrated, disappointed and angry parents and students when they found out the government was cutting the program.

He believes the decision to end chaplaincy wasn’t based on the best interests of students or schools.

“The ACT Government right now has experienced chaplains with youth work qualifications across many schools who are trained to deal with bullying and who help many students,” he said. “The explanation by the ACT Government that ‘secularism means that chaplaincy is incompatible with the operation of ACT government schools’, is wrong.

“Chaplains are qualified to deal with people of all or no faith in a non-coercive manner and work alongside psychologists and other pastoral care workers across school communities.”

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9 Responses to Students plead for Government to overturn its decision to end chaplaincy program
Pam Byron Pam Byron 2:57 pm 07 Nov 19

I am livid that those in the government with any authority take thier position to the extreme and make important decisions such as this without seeking the rights, the knowledge, and the facts from the school teachers, the students, and the chaplains. The students have a voice and need to be given the choice to be heard, along with chaplains and teachers. This woman needs to rethink her actions as it will harm the schooling system irrevocably and a lot of students will suffer.

Michelle Wright Michelle Wright 4:44 pm 05 Nov 19

I am a teacher aide, and our chaplain is used in lots of ways. Kids from all sorts of backgrounds love hanging out with him. He has restrictions about what he can and can’t do, which is fine. I would hate to see chaplaincy lost in Queensland.

alistaair alistaair 9:48 am 04 Nov 19

I agree with replacing chaplains with qualified youth and social workers. In my school days, the chaplain at school would give advice based on religious agendas and would get into arguments with students about religion.

    Sharon Beresford Sharon Beresford 2:54 pm 04 Nov 19

    That sort of behaviour is why chaplains now operate under restrictions. Ensures they are helpful and respectful to everyone as theirs is not a religious but a pastoral care role.

    Andrew Robb Andrew Robb 5:58 pm 05 Nov 19

    Hi alistaair, your comment implies that you think the current chaplains aren’t qualified youth workers or social workers – is that what you believe? They are already qualified, and minister Berry has said they will all be offered jobs in a new role – so clearly they are not sub-standard or untrustworthy.

Acton Acton 4:57 pm 03 Nov 19

The ACT Government on a daily basis seeks to remove the freedoms, rights and small liberties that generations throughout history struggled, fought and died for.
We get, and deserve, the government you vote for.

John Moulis John Moulis 4:14 pm 03 Nov 19

Chaplains are paid for by the Federal government. Their replacements will be paid for by ACT ratepayers. More expense. Oh, but the chaplains are religious and we can’t have that, can we? Even if it means that U & me are being slugged yet again.

noid noid 2:07 pm 03 Nov 19

Andrew Barrs inclusion policy is unbalanced and excludes anything he doesn’t agree with. Another example of his words not backing up his actions. There are far more positives from having school chaplains than not having them. Let the students decide if they want to see them or no, it appears they are being utilised.

    Gerard Kesby Gerard Kesby 1:29 am 05 Nov 19

    It appears there isn’t much call for Chaplains at all. Even the website for it is almost bare and the hashtag is almost all people calling for an end to it.

    What is the issue if they are replaced by non-faith based youth workers?
    This opens up the possibility of help for more students that don’t necessarily conform to christian views or values.

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