Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Leftist State government authorizes Christmas celebrations in schools

With an opt-out for those few who want it -- which is a reasonable compromise. Anybody would think that they are facing an election soon!

Students must be allowed to withdraw from Christmas celebrations for religious reasons, schools have been told. A Victorian Education Department memo sent to government schools issues advice about how to celebrate Christmas. It says schools need to be mindful of the secular nature of the government school system. "It is not appropriate to promote adherence to a particular religion or denomination of a religion," it says. "Accordingly, students must be allowed the opportunity to withdraw from planned events."

The memo also reminds schools to provide "appropriate opportunities" to celebrate the festive season. But it states it is up to school communities to decide the precise nature of celebrations. The memo says this could include telling of Christmas stories, nativity scenes, concerts, trees and decorations.

Sent by Office of School Education's Deputy Secretary Darrell Fraser, the letter also recommends an additional "inclusive" event. "In schools with particular diverse populations, in addition to any Christmas celebrations, consideration ought to be given to an inclusive end-of-year event, such as a concert and/or valedictory assembly - in which all students and members of the school community can participate freely," it reads.

The memo was sent to principals and school councils on October 24. Premier Steve Bracks last year encouraged schools to celebrate Christmas after some schools banned it for fear of offending non-Christian children. A school in the outer northern suburbs was accused two years ago of taking Christmas out of festive celebrations. Parents complained that the school had banned carols, saying "Merry Christmas" and even placed restrictions on festive wrap. But the school denied the ban, saying their concert was focused on student work rather than the festive season. Kindergartens and childcare centres have also previously not allowed Santa in.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said she welcomed the memo. "I think it is being more than reasonable. It is good for keeping community harmony and so hopefully everyone can celebrate," she said. Education Department spokesman Paul Barber said the guidelines were all about common sense.


Hugging gets a black mark in the schoolyard

My brother called me the other night, if not looking for answers, then at least despairing of the society we have become. He wanted to know why our children were being denied the opportunity to grow up as carefree as we did. His concern was prompted by a report that a Victorian high school had cracked down on hugging. The school also wanted to stop kissing and even shaking hands in the schoolyard. Basically, putting a full stop on physical contact at any time, it seemed to him. Bottom line: it did not want pupils showing affection to each other.

The acting principal said school was a place for learning, not loving. A week later another Victorian school had joined the restriction on hugging. The principal of a high school in Melbourne said his school was worried about inappropriate contact between the students. The schools had the right motive. They wanted to protect students from unwanted hugs, but I think this could have been done better than enforcing a blanket ban on hugging. Why not just teach kids to ask first before hugging?

So, I can understand the schools' decision and I can understand my brother's loss of faith in community standards. Take it as fact that more schools will take this no-hugging policy on board. That is how political correctness works. The problem is as always when imposing measures of zero tolerance that we end up with less, in this case a less joyful and free-spirited schoolyard. We are left with something a little more austere and reserved. And so that will become the norm.

It saddens me to think that our children might be taught to see such signs of affection as something bad and I wonder where all this will lead. Some time ago, schools in New Zealand and the US started banning hugging on school grounds using the same excuse. Many cited that it was not the act of embrace they did not like, but that hugs could be delivered inappropriately. Within a year, the ban became a matter of public policy in many US primary schools.

At the weekend, I read that schools in Britain had started to enforce the hugging ban. A teacher at a school in Cornwall told parents and students that hugging was out of bounds because it made youngsters late for lessons and, in some cases, was leading to inappropriate embraces. The school was even naming and shaming students who persisted.

It is madness. When did a hug between school friends become something shameful? How can we justify punishment of children when a hug is delivered as an innocent gesture of friendship? Granted, there can be occasions when a student receives an unwanted hug, but wouldn't it be better to address that by teaching our children to respect each other rather than going to such extremes that soon even a smile might be construed as something more sinister.

My little brother said many fellow parents were confused. He asked how can parents teach their children that an embrace between parent and child or siblings and their friends is something special, but in the schoolyard it is bad behaviour?

I just wonder why schools here have made the first anti-hugging move. Is it because they have experienced problems themselves, or because they have read about schools overseas doing the same thing and have decided to join the trend?

These days, the term political correctness has become a sneering description of an adherence to a doctrine that lacks humanity. The more I think about it, the more I think the anti-hugging lobby fits that sad description all too well. If a child wants to hug another child after scoring a goal in a schoolyard game of soccer then damn the teacher who scolds him or her and damn the school that cannot work out a policy that does not distinguish between an innocent child and a sexual predator.

About 20 years ago, National Hugging Day was started in the US as a heartfelt message for peace, love and understanding. Now, Sydney's Juan Mann is known internationally as a serial hugger thanks to his YouTube video that has had more than four million hits. He wanted to hug people to cheer them up and is now working on a global hug day. I'm with you, Mann. Come on people, group hug.


NSW police obstruct justice -- coverup?

The investigation into the cruise ship death of Dianne Brimble had been "severely hampered" by a bid by NSW Police to keep secret certain documents relating to the case, a coroner said. Deputy NSW state coroner Jacqueline Milledge said yesterday that both NSW Commissioner Ken Moroney and his South Australian counterpart had taken "unprecedented" steps to make a claim of "public interest immunity" over some material that has been subpoenaed by the court. The commissioners have threatened to seek a NSW Supreme Court order prohibiting the material from becoming public if Ms Milledge rules against immunity.

At the resumption of the inquest into Ms Brimble's 2002 drug-related death aboard the P&O Pacific Sky, Ms Milledge described the decision to claim public interest immunity at a coronial inquest as "extremely rare". "They are lawfully entitled to take the position they have taken . . . (but) there is no doubt it has severely hampered us in our progress, absolutely no doubt about that."

The comments came after claims by Ms Brimble's family at the weekend alleging a "cover up" by police over the withholding of certain documents. Ms Milledge said she and her team would "devote all day and all night if we need to" to viewing the controversial material today in order to rule on whether or not it will become public.


New hospital but no extra beds

More of that wonderful government "planning"

Doctors at the Royal Women's Hospital say the baby boom has outstripped the Bracks Government's $250 million expansion plans. They say the new hospital was designed to cater for about 5000 babies a year -- 1000 fewer than were delivered at the hospital in the past year. "The current hospital is already not big enough to cope with the rising birth rates, let alone the new hospital," a doctor said. "Staff are already overworked and we are really upset about it."

Hospital spokeswoman Mandy Frostick denied the claims but admitted there would be no more beds or birthing suites. She said a project website boasting the new hospital would deliver more than "5000 babies" a year was wrong. "It is the same bed capacity. We will have the same birth suites as what we have at present so we should be able to manage our existing demand," she said. Ms Frostick said the new hospital would include a "swing ward" that could be used depending on demand. The RWH is the nation's leading centre for high-risk pregnancies and premature babies. A record 6011 births there last year included 2000 premature and ill babies requiring neo-natal intensive and special care. In the first six months of this year, 2925 babies have been born there. In 2001, it had 4999 births.

RWH insiders said the new hospital would struggle to cope with demand when it opened on the grounds of the Royal Melbourne Hospital in 2008. They said designs were based on old birth rates that did not take into account the baby boom kick-started by the Federal Government's baby bonus. Opposition health spokeswoman Helen Shardey said the Government had continually failed to provide increased capacity in the public hospital system. "Victorian women are having more children and having them later, and therefore perhaps needing the greater level of specialist care," she said.


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