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Safe Schools program adopted for special needs kids

Teenagers with intellectual disabilities are being exposed to complex and contentious gender and sexuality theory, with a growing number of Victorian special schools incorporating the Safe Schools program into their curriculum.

Ballarat Specialist School, which caters for students with moderate to severe intellectual disabilities, joined the Safe Schools Coalition late last year, according to an updated membership list seen by The Australian.

The school advised parents of the decision via the school newsletter last week, revealing it was in the process of “implementing relevant parts of the Safe Schools program … as part of our wider health curriculum”. The Ballarat school, which has 480 students aged from three to 18, is the third special school to sign up to the program, with the Victorian government confirming yesterday that special schools were not exempt from its directive that the program be mandatory by the end of 2018.

Berendale School in Hampton East is also listed on the Safe Schools register, along with Travancore School, which caters for young people undergoing treatment for mental health issues.

The creeping influence of the controversial program has raised concerns within disability circles, particularly in regard to the ability of students with special needs to comprehend some concepts ­espoused by the program.

Originally designed to stamp out homophobic bullying, Safe Schools, developed by La Trobe University, has been heavily criticised for pushing radical and contested gender and sexuality theory into classrooms.

The program’s main teaching guide, All Of Us, argues that common definitions of sexuality, gender and sex are “often limited” and suggests classroom handouts that “present more accurate definitions by showing that they exist on a spectrum rather than as absolute binaries”.

It also encourages teachers to avoid using “gendered terms”, such as “manpower” or “policeman” and recommends that “phrases like ‘ladies and gentlemen’ or ‘boys and girls’ should be avoided”.

The federal government has de-funded the program, while the Victorian government has taken over the running of it from La Trobe following controversies involving former manager Roz Ward.

Rachel Carling-Jenkins, the Democratic Labour Party member for the Western Metropolitian region, said: “We’ve got kids with learning disabilities who are having to cope with these complex concepts.

“I have no problem with sex education in schools, but this Safe Schools program goes way beyond that.”

Opposition education spokesman Nick Wakeling called on Premier Daniel Andrews to ­“explain why he has allowed his radical gender and sexuality Safe Schools program into the classroom with children with special needs”.

Ballarat Specialist School principal Kim Yearwood said a parent information session was scheduled for next week.

“I believe we need to value ­diversity by modelling acceptance and respect,” Ms Yearwood said.

Rebecca Urban

  • The Australian
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