Loreto school in Balbriggan wants to control ‘NPRE’ parents and their children
In Loreto second level school in Balbriggan, students who exercise their Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction are referred to as ‘NPRE students’, and their parents are referred to as ‘parents of NPRE students’.
‘NPRE’ stands for Non Participation in Religious Education. It could more accurately be described as ‘Not Protecting Rights Equally’.
This Loreto policy breaches the Constitution and the Education Act. It also breaches GDPR law, as the school draws up a list of these ‘NPRE’ students and puts their names on a database along with the reasons why they are not participating in religious education.
This Loreto policy is absolutely disrespectful to minorities and undermines pluralism and the right to freedom of religious and belief. It reflects Catholic power and control over our education system.
We are aware that publicly funded Catholic schools are not inclusive, and that they discriminate on religious grounds. However, this policy is worse than that. It attempts to actively control how atheist and other minority belief parents bring up their children in accordance with their own personal philosophical beliefs.
The Department of Education simply ignores the Constitutional rights of parents. In particular it has failed to put in place an Administrative scheme to give practical application to the Constitutional right to not attend religious instruction under Article 44.2.4 of the Constitution.
Constitutional rights of parents
Article 44.2.4 states that students have a right to attend any school receiving public funds and ‘not attend’ religious instruction. Article 44.2.4 does not say ‘opt out’ or ‘not participate’ in religious instruction. It clearly says ‘not attend’, which means the right to physically leave the classroom. Nor does it say that reasons must be given for not attending.
Section 30-2(e) of the Education Act 1998 reflects this right. This right is the responsibility of the Minister for Education. There is no dispute in relation to the right to ‘not attend’. The Constitution is clear and so is the Education Act.
The Oireachtas has also decided that practical application must be given to Constitutional rights (Section 6 (a) Education Act 1998) and that Boards of Management of schools must ensure that the Constitutional rights of all are complied with.
The Supreme Court in the recent Burke case has upheld parental rights and said that parental authority over the education of their children was a foundational pillar of the constitution. Not in Loreto for the NPRE parents and students though. They obviously missed that Supreme Court case.
The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 obliges schools to put in their Admissions policy the arrangement for students not attending religious instruction.
The vast majority of schools just ignore that legal requirement and the Minister for Education, Norma Foley has done nothing about this. Schools simply put in their Admission policies that parents should come into a meeting to discuss the issue.
Loreto, Balbriggan Admission Policy
In the case of the Loreto in Balbriggan, this is what their Admission Policy says:-
“16. Arrangements regarding students not attending religious instruction.
Where the parents, or in the case of a student who has reached the age of 18 years, the student, have requested that the student attend the school without attending the religious instruction in the school, arrangements are set out in the school’s policy on Non Participation in Religious Education as per the school website. This policy is available on the school website or by contacting the school office.”
As an aside, by putting ‘Non Participation in Religious Education’ as their response to the law about ‘Religious Instruction’, they are acknowledging that ‘religious education’ and ‘religious instruction’ are the same thing. This is significant as some schools and patron bodies deny this fact.
Loreto, Balbriggan ‘Non Participation in Religious Education’ policy
The policy says that Religious Education is a non exam subject in Loreto. We are aware that this RE course was also developed by the NCCA for schools that do not have Junior Certificate Religious Education as an exam subject. We can always depend on the NCCA to assist in undermining the rights of minorities in schools.
Loreto, Balbriggan say that:
“The general aim of Religious Education is to continue to awaken our students to faith and to help them throughout their lives to deepen and strengthen that faith”
The school policy then claims that the course is open to students of all faiths and none. It is open to all faiths and none if parents wish for their child to be evangelised into the Catholic religion. They actually claim that the course is inclusive and promotes diversity.
The Loreto school policy then says that students who do not participate will be supervised in the religion class, and if that is not satisfactory then parents are responsible for the supervision of their child. So they just ignore the Constitution and the Education Act 1998 with regard to the right to not attend religious instruction.
Loreto policy and GDPR – ‘NPRE’ parents and students information put on a database
The Loreto policy goes on to state the following:
Once the student has secured a place in the school and expresses a wish to opt out of R.E. the procedure is as follows:
- The student approaches her R.E. teacher and requests permission to opt out of R.E. classes. The teacher gives the student a copy of the information pack which has been compiled for such an event.
- The student and parents/guardians read the information pack and complete the form attached requesting that the student formally opt out of R.E. classes. This form is returned to the R.E. teacher involved.
- Parents of students opting out of R.E. should meet or have contact with the Religion teacher and if necessary a member of the senior management team.
- An official list/data base will be drawn up, each year, of those students who do not do R.E. The reason for the student’s non participation is also recorded so that all parties in the process are kept informed.
If Loreto had any understanding of the Constitutional rights of parents then would not ask parents for their reasons in exercising their constitutional rights.
Under the Constitution and the Education Act 1998, parents do not need to give reasons for exercising a Constitutional right. The Supreme Court has said that the inalienable rights of parents in relation to the education of their children must be read in the context of Article 44.2.4, the right to not attend religious instruction.
This Loreto policy also breaches GDPR because the school keeps lists on a data base of sensitive issues when they had no right to that information in the first place.
Loreto policy – controlling what ‘NPRE’ students do
Loreto are not finished yet with the ‘NPRE’ parents and students. If parents manage to get as far as ‘not participating’ and agreeing to their child being supervised in the Religious Education class, the school then controls what the student does during this time.
No homework is allowed, and a list of suggested tasks and activities is recommended by the school. Any texts for studying must be agreed with the school and the religion teacher.
Loreto policy – Underming the constitutional authoriy of families
There is a suggestion in the policy that even though the school recognises the right of parents to not participate in R.E, the responsibility for the spiritual and moral development must be met!
How will the school decide if the parents are meeting their responsibility for the spiritual and moral development of their child? Will an interogation take place?
According to the Supreme Court (Burke case) the authority of the family is a foundational pillar of the Constitution. Schools do not get to decide what is or is not suitable religious and moral education and formation for children.
And what is meant by the word ‘spiritual’? What must they think of atheist families?
The Loreto policy goes on to state about its Information Pack:
Parents of NPRE students are informed of the standing of Religious Education in Loreto, Balbriggan as a subject for “all religious faiths and none”. The information pack is sent home to ensure clear communication regarding what is expected of the NPRE student. The pack includes the following:
Outline of Junior and Senior Religion courses
Letter outlining the place and function of the R.E. course in the context of our aim to provide a holistic education of every student in Loreto Balbriggan.
Statement of the recognition of the constitutional right of the parents to opt out of R.E. and how the responsibility of the spiritual and moral development of the student must still be met, in accordance to that same educational right of the student.
An outline of what the NPRE student is expected to do during R.E. class.
No homework is permitted and a list of suggested tasks and activities is recommended.
As part of our NPRE programme students who opt out of participation in the RE class can study agreed texts either provided by the school or home.
A list of relevant, agreed, books and papers or documents which are made available by the school for the NPRE student during the R.E. class. Parents, Guardians and students are free to suggest and submit additional texts or learning materials in consultation with the Religion teacher and school management. The texts should be appropriate and in line with the spirit of the NPRE policy.
A request that the parents specify which books they are happy for their daughter to study.
A form to confirm that the student will be opting in/out.
Notification of the fact that RSE may be taught during senior R.E. class as part of the SPHE programme and that there would be an expectation that the student attends these classes.
In addition to all of the above, ‘NPRE’ parents and students get no Relationship and Sexuality Education because it is delivered in the Religious Education class and they do not participate.
This total disregard for the constitutional rights of parents is the fault of the Department of Education and their failure to put in place an Administrative Scheme in relation to the right to not attend religious instruction.
We are aware that publicly funded Catholic schools are not inclusive, and that they discriminate on religious grounds. However, this policy for ‘NPRE’ parents and students in Loreto, Balbriggan is worse than that. It attempts to actively control how atheist and other minority belief parents bring up their children in accordance with their own personal philosophical beliefs.