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ERO Looking at "Emotional & Physical Safety" of Bethlehem College Students
The ERO has launched "a focussed evaluation to specifically look at the emotional and physical safety of all students.”
Edit: May 31
Bethlehem College has sent out their own newsletter following my newsletter.
Webworm has obtained a letter sent out to parents, from Bethlehem College principal Larne Edmeades.
Essentially it confirms everything Webworm published.
For me, this letter is telling in how much they tend to gaslight, and dig their heels in.
We are fine. There is nothing to see here. We are under attack.
Also, there’s a new Flightless Bird out today, where I look at drug rehab clinics in Florida. I talk to three former addicts, and their stories are pretty inspiring. I hope you like it!
Okay. Onto today’s newsletter.
Sometimes I write a story and it’s all a blur and then time happens and I go “WTF happened with that thing.”
Today is a quick catchup on an old thing: My old school in New Zealand. Because while Bethlehem College would like you to think the heat is off — the heat is not off. Like the fiery pits of hell, the heat is never off. Here at Webworm, shit’s like DOOM.
In June of last year I wrote a fairly personal essay about my old school Bethlehem College, and its outdated and damaging views on LGBTQI+ students.
In my last piece on BC, I included a moving personal essay from another former student, Ro Bright (who went on to write the breakout hit Daffodils and just generally be awesome).
While there had been various complaints about Bethlehem College’s alarming views on LGBTQI+ students in the past, one complaint had finally broken through — and suddenly the school was in the spotlight.
In response to a fairly big media storm (in New Zealand standards), the school ended up removing a weird statement from their list of “beliefs”, which said boy and girls could only kiss those from the opposite sex, otherwise God would hate you:
“Marriage is an institution created by God in which one man and one woman enter into an exclusive relationship intended for life, and that marriage is the only form of partnership approved by God for sexual relations”.
Just a quick refresher: Bethlehem College is a state-integrated school, which means it gets taxpayer money. To keep getting that cash, it has to fit within guidelines set out by the Ministry of Education. Guidelines like, say, don’t discriminate against students that don’t fit your ridiculously narrow mould of what the human experience can be.
The school’s statement on marriage (which parents had to sign if they wanted their kids to go there) did not fit the Ministry’s agreement: “It is an additional statement that was not included in the Bethlehem College Integration Agreement entered into with the Minister of Education in 1999” the Ministry told Webworm last year.
So — last year — after some delay — Bethlehem College removed the statement. They wanted those taxpayer dollars, babyyyy.
But, behind the scenes, those that run the school just kept on believing what they believed, staunchly telling The Herald, “We have not changed any of our beliefs due to media coverage or anything else”.
They also refused to talk to Webworm anymore, the chair of the Bethlehem College board telling me to get fucked (and have a great weekend):
Which made me wonder — what has really changed? Are gay and trans kids at BC still being made to feel like pieces of human garbage?
Basically, I wanted to know what it would take for a school like Bethlehem College to violate its integration agreement, and lose out on that sweet government cash injection.
It would be a huge, horrible hit for the school to lose it: devastating for the students, especially. The best thing would be for the school to stop holding ridiculous beliefs about students in the LGBTQI+ community.
But how could it keep that status if the school is saying things like, “We have not changed any of our beliefs due to media coverage or anything else”?
Sometime last year, the Education Review Office got involved in looking at the school, and working with them to become slightly less deranged.
I’d heard from several sources that the ERO had also recently started a new part of this process — honing in on more specific things to make sure the school was creating a safe environment for their students — especially the LGBTQI+ ones.
(The ERO is the New Zealand government’s external evaluation agency that “informs and facilitates improvement in schools.”)
So, I reached out to the ERO for some clarity on where they were at — on their original dialogue with the school, and any new investigations. Their communications manager was… vague:
“It is not our practice to comment on work in progress.
As part of the review process, we give schools the opportunity to provide feedback on emerging findings. We are still in dialogue with the College and will report publicly in due course. Once finalised, a report will be published.
It is important to note that ERO reviews are not investigations. ERO is the New Zealand government’s external evaluation agency that informs and facilitates improvement in early learning services, kōhanga reo, puna kōhungahunga, kura and schools.
As a matter of courtesy and practice, we will let the school know that we have received a media enquiry.”
How kind of them to let Bethlehem College know I’d been in touch.
Cat out of the bag that I was back on my grind, I fired off an email to my old mate Paul Shakes at Bethlehem College to ask if he had any comments. I am yet to hear back. I suppose I’m still not ethical enough.
I replied to the ERO asking if they could provide any clarity over when their findings would be complete. “In due course” seemed… vague. I am yet to hear back. They’d also told me “ERO reviews are not investigations.”
So, they’ll generate a bunch more findings and that’s that.
The Ministry of Education
The last thing the Ministry of Education had told me in June of last year was:
“Under s127 of the Education and Training Act 2020 school boards are required to be inclusive of, and cater for, students with differing needs.
We are committed to supporting schools and kura to provide a safe and inclusive learning environment that promotes student wellbeing and positive outcomes.
This document will be a part of our ongoing discussions with the school to ensure it is meeting its legal obligations under the Education and Training Act.”
What of those “ongoing discussions”? Had the Ministry decided that Bethlehem College was “meeting its legal obligations under the Education and Training Act”?
I sent of a list of very specific questions to the Ministry of Education:
1) Are you still actively looking into Bethlehem College and its attitude towards, and internal documents about, LGBTQI+ students?
2) Are you satisfied that Bethlehem College is meeting its legal obligations under the Education and Training Act?
3) If not, what are the Ministry's next steps in this matter?
4) In line with your understanding of BC's current (as of May 29, 2023) attitudes towards LGBTQI+ students and making them feel safe, are you satisfied that Bethlehem College's Integrated Status is merited?
5) I note the ERO is now looking to Bethlehem College. The ERO has told me that reviews are "not investigations", and that it simply "informs and facilitates improvement". Did the Ministry of Education pass things over to the ERO, or are they looking into BC independently?
The Ministry sort of just ignored those questions, and their communications person sent this back (New Zealand government departments love comms people):
You can attribute comment to Jocelyn Mikaere, Hautū (Deputy Secretary) Te Tai Whenua (Central).
“ERO had been working with school [SIC], as part of their wider review process. They’ve since included a focussed evaluation to specifically look at the emotional and physical safety of all students.
ERO has advised they will share their findings with us once the review is concluded.”
After a lot of vague emails, here is my take on where things are at with Bethlehem College
Next time anyone asks me a series of specific questions that I find awkward, I might just do what the Ministry of Education did. It’s kind of a baller move. Also hastily typed as the grammar is worse than what you find in Webworm.
While it was frustrating I had no specifics, there was something interesting there — the Ministry had validated my tip-offs:
“They’ve [The ERO] since included a focussed evaluation to specifically look at the emotional and physical safety of all students.”
So — the TL;DR version is that 11 months after the spotlight was shone on Bethlehem College’s views on LGBTQI+ students, the ERO has finally decided to look at the “emotional and physical safety” of Bethlehem College students.
The Ministry of Education is vague.
And Bethlehem College stays silent.
And I imagine — as always — their LGBTQI+ students stay silent too. Just like I was, 25 years ago.
If anyone wants to talk in confidence about the Bethlehem College situation, you can reach me in confidence at firstname.lastname@example.org