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MHF Asks Public To Co-sign Open Letter To Government, To Retain Relationships And Sexuality Guidelines In Schools

The Mental Health Foundation (MHF) is calling for members of the public to sign their open letter, released this morning, which asks the coalition Government to retain current relationships and sexuality education (RSE) guidelines in schools and kura.

Co-signed by 26 mental health and rainbow organisations, the open letter opposes the Government’s plans to remove the guidelines. It is available online for public signatures until Pink Shirt Day (17 May), a day which focuses on reducing bullying by celebrating diversity in all its forms. The co-signed open letter will be sent to the Minister of Education, Erica Stanford, the week following.

The guidelines were developed to address calls to help end school bullying, violence and child abuse, and have been successfully in place since 2020.

“We believe all children and young people deserve to feel safe and included at school and kura, regardless of their gender, sexuality or background,” says MHF chief executive Shaun Robinson.

“The current RSE guidelines can help schools create these safe and inclusive environments, environments where bullying isn’t enabled to thrive. Removing the guidelines will simply mean teachers have fewer resources to teach the sexuality education they still have to teach, while sending a strong signal to teachers and students that creating safe school environments is not a priority.”

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The Government’s commitment to remove the RSE guidelines is in National and NZ First’s coalition agreement, where they agree to “refocus the [school] curriculum on academic achievement and not ideology, including the removal andreplacement of the gender, sexuality, and relationship-based education guidelines”.

The ‘ideology’ being targeted in this agreement is gender and sexuality diversity and inclusion, even though studies show rainbow students experience much higher levels of bullying, discrimination and social exclusion than others.

“Tauira who are bullied, discriminated against or socially excluded are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, affecting their learning, relationships, and ability to feel good about themselves. Those who bully are also more likely to skip classes and drop out of school,” Mr Robinson says.

“These are not the outcomes we want for our schools. Removing the RSE guidelines is not only an education and diversity issue - it is also a mental health issue which can affect students’ ability to learn.”

The MHF’s open letter reminds the Minister and Government the RSE guidelines were the result of in-depth consultation with teachers, students and parents, and are not mandatory. Guidelines content related to gender and sexuality diversity, relationships and identity is staged at age-appropriate levels, and parents and caregivers retain their right to withdraw their children from sexuality education in general, if they wish.

“Practically, schools will still be required to teach RSE as an aspect of health education under the New Zealand Curriculum. Removing the guidelines will only disempower schools and empower bullies,” Mr Robinson says.

“We all hope the Government will reconsider their decision, and that many members of the public will stand with us and co-sign our open letter.”

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