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State Govt to run 'watered down' version of Safe Schools

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The State Government will jettison current Safe Schools lesson plans when federal funding runs out this year, opting to fund a new state-based program focused on teacher training.

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State Education Minister Susan Close, who last year expressed “disgust” that the Federal Government was reviewing the controversial anti-bullying program, today announced the State Government would not continue with the current Safe Schools lesson plans in South Australian schools.

She has also cast doubt on whether any of the current support materials for teachers, or the name, would continue to be used in South Australia.

From July, South Australia will deliver a new program for what Close described as a “refreshed initiative” to prevent bullying of LGBTI students.

The program’s focus will be training staff to “help them respond to and understand the issues faced by LGBTI students and create safe and supportive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse people”, Close said in a statement.

In contrast to approaches by some Labor Governments interstate, student participation in any activities in the program would need to be subject to parental consent. Before a school can get involved in the program, principals will be required to consult with the school community and seek the endorsement of the school governing council.

Last year, the Victorian Government took over management of Safe Schools from the Safe Schools Coalition, promising to roll out the program to every public high school.

The ACT Government has also decided to develop its own Safe Schools program, after the Federal Government initiated changes which required parental permission before a student can be shown how to access Safe Schools resources.

Under questioning from InDaily, Close insisted that while the current lesson plans would no longer be used, the Safe Schools “approach” would remain.

“The question of the use of the name Safe Schools and use of the current materials will be resolved in time,” she said.

“The goals and approach of the federal initiative will be maintained. The model, developed in consultation with SHine SA, is based on the current Australian Government Safe Schools Coalition program.”

In a media release today, Close said the new anti-bullying initiative would be delivered by SHine SA and “replaces” the Federal Government program, which was also coordinated here by SHine SA.

“The Safe Schools anti-bullying initiative allows schools to seek out training for teachers and principals to help them respond to specific issues and provides guidance on how to create safe and supportive environments for same sex attracted, intersex and gender diverse students,” Close said.

“Parental consent is at the heart of the initiative and principals will consult with the school community and seek governing council endorsement prior to its adoption.”

The new program will cost about $300,000 to deliver.

InDaily has asked SHine SA, the national Safe Schools Coalition and the Australian Education Union for their views on the new program, but we did not receive any response before publication.

Safe Schools, an initiative developed under federal Labor but first introduced under the Abbott Liberal Government, has come under sustained attack, particularly in News Corp’s The Australian newspaper for being an exercise in “social engineering”.

Safe Schools is a voluntary program which offers professional support to teachers and school leaders, as well as a resource, All of Us, for use by teachers in Year 7 and Year 8 classrooms.

Greens MLC Tammy Franks said it was disappointing that the State Government had decided to announce a “watering down” of the program on the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia.

“This is a real watering down of Safe Schools,” she said.

She said the decision pandered to homophobes in the community.

Christian advocacy group Family Voice Australia welcomed the State Government’s decision.

“This is a breakthrough for parents who are deeply concerned by the exposure of young children to highly sexualised material,” said national director Ashley Saunders.

“We are all against bullying, but the Safe Schools curriculum was all about normalising and effectively promoting the same-sex agenda.”

However, Family Voice wants the State Government to go further and cancel any anti-bullying strategy specifically related to sexuality.

According to the mental health organisation Beyond Blue, LGBTI people are much more likely to experience bullying at school than other children.

The organisation quotes an Australian study showing 61 per cent of young non-heterosexual people reported experiencing verbal abuse and 18 per cent reported physical abuse.

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