Wicklow school refuses to teach 'same-sex friendship' on RSE syllabus

Education Equality is calling on Lacken National School to develop an inclusive RSE curriculum after a concerning letter to parents.

Wicklow school is refusing to teach about same-sex relationships as part of RSE classes. The photograph shows the back of students in a classroom with teacher standing in the background.
Image: Kenny Eliason via Upsplash

Education Equality – a voluntary human rights organisation established to campaign for equality in the provision of education for all children regardless of religion – has issued a statement to say they are “appalled at the exclusion” of “same-sex friendships” and contraception from the relationships and sexuality education (RSE) programme at Lacken National School in Blessington, Co Wicklow.

Earlier this month, a letter was sent to parents advising them that “The sections within the RSE programme which have been identified as sensitive issues will be taught in May and June”.

As well as assuring parents that the programme would be delivered in an age-appropriate manner, it also advised parents that the content would also ascribe to the Catholic school’s ethos and “within a moral and spiritual framework.”

After outlining how parents could excuse their child from RSE classes, it went on to state, “Teachers do not cover topics such as contraception and same-sex friendships”. It went on, “Children who ask questions in class on content outside the designated curriculum are encouraged to discuss the issue with their parents.” 

Although religious schools are not obliged to deliver lessons that contravene their moral code, Catholic schools are also not obliged to exclude same-sex relationships from the curriculum. According to the Education Equality statement, some of the more progressive Catholic schools actually participate in the INTO’s ‘Different Families, Same Love’ competition.

The statement notes that on June 11, 2021, parents representing a majority of the children at Lacken NS wrote to the Principal and Board of Management to oppose the introduction of the Catholic ‘Flourish’ RSE programme. In their petition, they maintained it was “discriminatory to LGBTQ+ children and families and does not reflect the Constitutional position on marriage”. 

Continuing, “What is taught to all children in Ireland, particularly with regard to sexual education, should be fact-based: everything that the children hear should be free from the influence of a religious ethos.”

Education Equality Communications Officer David Graham points out, “Parents representing a majority of children at this school have requested that the school’s approach to RSE be inclusive of LGBTQ+ relationships and free from a religious ethos. Less than a year after receiving their letter, the school has ignored this request.

“By excluding any discussion of same-sex relationships in its classrooms, Lacken NS is compounding the sense of stigma and exclusion already felt by many LGBTQ+ children and families in the Irish education system.” 

He went on to note “A survey by BeLonG To in 2019 found that 73% of LGBTI+ students feel unsafe at school. This is a clear denial of education for Irish children and a denial of dignity for same-sex couples. Taxpayers’ money is being used to deny the kind of factual and inclusive education that parents have explicitly called for.”

He concluded “68.4% of voters in Wicklow voted in favour of allowing same-sex couples the right to marry, significantly higher than the national average of 62%. There is overwhelming local support for rights for same-sex couples. Yet the local school pretends that these relationships do not exist. 

“Minister for Education Norma Foley has previously claimed that RSE policy in each school ‘is developed in consultation with the entire school community’. However, this is a clear case where the express wishes of the school community have been completely ignored.”

Education Equality is urgently calling on the Government to remove religious influence from the school curriculum, particularly in the area of RSE which would allow for same-sex relationships to be recognised without prejudice. They believe that schools should be compelled to confine religious instruction and worship to a period at the end of the school day, outside core school hours in order to uphold families’ constitutional and human rights to freedom of religion and belief. You can sign the group’s petition here.

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