Parents at a non-denominational school in Dublin have staged a protest over the use of a Catholic agency to deliver sex education classes to pupils.
The protest outside Castleknock Educate Together took place yesterday following the school management’s decision to invite Catholic marriage agency Accord to deliver Relationships and Sexuality Education (RSE) to children in fifth and sixth class next month.
The school has been using Accord, which was set up by the Catholic bishops in 1962, to deliver the RSA programme for a number of years, despite ongoing objections from parents.
According to its website, Accord offers one-day programmes for fifth and sixth class pupils which aim "to give clear correct information about the changes that take place at the time of transition at a spiritual, intellectual, emotional and physical level.
"We hope by the end of the day to have left the students with a better awareness and understanding of their own sexuality, thus encouraging a positive attitude to growing up and a greater insight into relationships both now and in the future," the website states.
In a letter sent to school principal Aedín Ní Thuathail last March, the chair of the school’s Parent Teacher Association Ciaran Browne said: "It is difficult to see how [an organisation] funded by the Catholic church and with a clear religious ethos could ever have been deemed ‘fit for purpose’ to deliver the RSE programme in an Educate Together school.
"When parents enrolled their children at the school they were making an active decision to have their child educated in a school with particular core principles, not in a school which favoured one particular religious ethos over others."
Ruth Coppinger TD, who attended the protest yesterday, said Accord is the wrong agency to deliver sex education classes in the school, in particular to any LGBT pupils.
"This simply shouldn't be happening, that an Educate Together school is bringing in a Catholic agency to teach RSE - sex education," she said.
"Accord is a group that is not friendly and warm towards LGBT relationships. How are any gay or lesbian or bisexual child meant to feel in that sort of environment?
"We want sex education that's consent-based, that's objective, that's not preaching, that teaches all facets of sexuality."
The school's patron body, Educate Together, has also criticised the use of a religious-run organisation for the RSE programme, adding it "would like to stress that the contracting of external agencies by a school is a matter for the board of management of an individual school".
It said it does not have the authority to make schools under its patronage deliver the RSE programme in any specific way.
"Educate Together as a school patron does not have the authority to require schools to deliver the RSE programme in any specific way, unless a motion is passed by the member schools of Educate Together at an Annual General Meeting.
However, Educate Together believes that it is not appropriate for a religious-run organisation to deliver RSE in the context of an equality-based Educate Together school.
Educate Together said it will write to schools urging them to deliver RSA classes that are "free from religious bias".
"Educate Together will be writing to all schools under its patronage to ask them to ensure that relationships and sexuality education is delivered in a way that is consistent with its ethos and free from religious bias.
"Some parents and guardians of children in an Educate Together school have recently been in touch with the national office on this issue. Educate together takes this issue very seriously. The National Office is currently looking at all options in its capacity as a school patron to support the school community involved."
Speaking at the protest, one parent pointed out that there are pupils of many faiths attending the school, as well as non-religious pupils, so it should not use a Catholic group to deliver classes.
"This school has Christians, Jews, Muslims," he said. "This school doesn't say 'have no religion in your lives'. Parents in this school are in full support of people living their lives as they wish.
"Why did we send our children to this school? Because we thought we would get an Educate Together programme. And if they're now bringing from the back doors Accord into our school, I personally will say to the board of management I will boycott that forever and ever.
"I think we should boycott that and I think we should raise the profile of this protest because it's for the good of the next generation."
The protest was to coincide with a talk for parents given by Accord, which was since cancelled.
We have reached out to Castleknock Educate Together and Accord for comment.