Parents at Sydney Anglican school St Catherine’s are preparing for a fight after publicly rejecting a new requirement for incoming principals to sign a statement that marriage is between a man and a woman. Some same-sex parents say the information is deeply hurtful.
St Catherine’s principal is leaving. Her successor – appointed by a council dominated by representatives of the anti-same-sex marriage Anglican church diocese of Sydney – will be the first principal required to sign the relatively new rule for diocese-run schools.
With term two finishing on Friday and a minimum of two terms’ notice required to announce a new head, parents expect the incoming principal will be announced imminently.
One parent, who wished to remain anonymous, is part of a same-sex relationship and said the incoming principal would face “stark opposition” if they didn’t align with the school’s values of inclusion and diversity.
“It’s a very inclusive, diverse school – it’s a loving and accepting school community … we want it to remain that way,” she said.
The parent is part of the Love School Group, a coalition of parents lobbying for the new head to reject the statement of faith and sign an inclusion and diversity policy.
They say they weren’t consulted on the revision and only became aware of it through an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald in May, despite paying annual fees of up to $37,000.
The parent said if the requirement had been in place when enrolling her daughter at the school, her decision “would’ve been very different”.
“It was brought in without our knowledge or any school community consultation,” she said. “It’s completely out of touch.”
The parent said the revelations were “very hurtful” to other same-sex school families and LGBTQ+ students and staff.
“Our kids would be taught a doctrine contrary to law,” the parent said.
“To have a new head publicly sign a statement that doesn’t recognize my family structure is humiliating and deeply upsetting. It’s very hurtful.”
While same-sex marriage has been legal since 2017, current legislation permits religious schools to discriminate against students and fire staff based on their sexual orientation.
In a statement provided to Guardian Australia, the Love School Group said the requirement fundamentally opposed the “inclusive ethos” of the school and had sparked “unrest” throughout the school community.
An internal survey of more than 840 parents found that more than 80% opposed the new requirement.
In a letter to parents on 6 May – after the Herald published the revelations – outgoing head Dr. Julie Townsend didn’t directly reject the amendment. Still, it acknowledged, “although we are a diocesan school, we are not the Sydney Diocese”.
“Discriminatory and damaging views have no place in our school,” she wrote.
“We are a community built on love, underpinned by Jesus’ greatest commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves.
“We are blessed to have a diverse, inclusive, compassionate community of staff, students, and families.”
On 9 June, the Love School Group sent a formal letter to the school’s council – the Sydney diocese appointed the majority of whom – and Anglican archbishop Kanishka Raffel expressing their concerns.
Raffel also serves as council president.
More than a fortnight later, they say no formal response has been received.
About 30 schools within the Anglican church Sydney diocese, including Shore, Kings, and Abbotsleigh, are expected to be affected by the clause, due to become effect for new principals and board members from January of next year.
St Catherine’s is the first school to be directly affected by the employment requirements and the first school to come out publicly in opposition.
But the Love School Group said it was in “preliminary discussions” with several schools affected and had already garnered “widespread support”.
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“It’s a direct clash with the existing culture and threatens to create division or even harm vulnerable children in our community who are exploring their sexuality,” another parent, who wished to remain anonymous, said.
“We have three daughters at St Catherine’s and have a longstanding relationship and love for the school.
“Young people exploring their sexuality are two-and-a-half times more likely to experience mental health challenges … this statement and its surrounding character would come at a particularly vulnerable time of life that could damage healthy development.”
Earlier this week, the school held a diversity day that embraced differences in race, religion, and sexuality.
Another parent who wished to remain anonymous said ever since the clause came to light, there had been “deep unrest, anxiety, and sadness” in the school community.
“This clause is narrow and discriminatory and has no place in our school,” they said.
A spokesperson for St Catherine’s said the school was a “diverse and inclusive community where everyone is welcome and valued”.
“Our parents, students, and staff accept and love each other.”
Raffel was approached for comment.
The issue of same-sex marriage has generated a schism within the Anglican church in Australia and worldwide.
The Sydney diocese contributed $1m to the “no” campaign in the 2017 same-sex marriage referendum and has since introduced the statement of faith for principals.
However, earlier this year, the General Synod of the Anglican church in Australia refused to endorse the Sydney position against same-sex marriage. Many dioceses continue to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages.