A Co Wicklow Catholic primary school has said it will not be using Flourish, a relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme/resource developed by the Irish Bishops' Conference for use from junior infants up to sixth class. Archbishop of Dublin Dermot Farrell is patron of the school.
The decision by Lacken national school management follows protests by parents at the Blessington school who, in a letter to the school board of management on May 17th last, said: "We do not feel the Flourish programme is fit for purpose when teaching RSE to children. It is discriminatory to LGBTQ+ children and families and it does not correspond with the view of the State."
An introduction to Flourish, published last April, says that, when discussing LGBT issues, the “Church’s teaching in relation to marriage between a man and a woman cannot be omitted”. It describes puberty as “a gift from God. We are perfectly designed by God to procreate with him”; while a lesson on safety and protection advises senior infant children to say the “Angel of God” prayer.
On May 13th last, Archbishop Farrell had said: "I welcome Flourish, the resource for Relationships and Sexuality Education for Catholic Primary schools."
He continued that “our faith asks that we put before our young people and their families, such an understanding of (sacramental) marriage as part of their formation for life, and in the faith”.
In their letter to Lacken’s board of management, parents said: “Flourish will result in a disconnect between a religious approach taken in the 90 per cent of primary schools under Catholic management and the non-religious approach taken by secondary schools to RSE.”
Replying, Lacken principal Fiona Jones and its board of management assured them of an intention to use the existing RSE programme from September 2021 at the school. The 22 parents expressed unhappiness with this.
In a subsequent letter to Ms Jones and the board of management on May 24th, they said “We were grateful to receive your communication (dated 17 May) regarding the intention to use the existing RSE programme next September 2021. That said, that statement does not rule out the use of the Flourish programme as a supplementary resource going forward, so we want to take this opportunity to convey that we do not wish the Flourish Programme to be used as a supplementary resource to the current RSE programme.”
Their preference was “that the Flourish Programme is not used as a resource to teach our children sex education in any shape or format”.
In a May 27th response, Ms Jones and the school board of management assured the parents that “we intend to continue with our present RSE programme going forward. This rules out the use of any other programme, supplementary or otherwise.”
The Education Equality group has welcomed the Lacken school’s decision, which it said “clearly recognised the strong parental opposition to the new Flourish RSE programme”.
Spokesman David Graham said it "sets an important precedent in the wider debate around the role of religion in schools and is likely to encourage more parents to begin similar local campaigns".
He said “teaching children that ‘puberty is a gift from God’ constitutes religious evangelisation under the guise of education” and asked, “Who should decide whether a child is evangelised at school, the child’s parents or religious clergy?”
Education Equality is campaigning for religious instruction in all State-funded schools “to be confined to a distinct period of time (not permeated throughout the school day) and taught after core school hours so that parents can effectively choose whether or not their child receives instruction in a particular religion.”