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School chaplains vital, principals say

Shepparton school leaders say chaplains are not employed to preach religion and are highly valued.

JOHN LEWIS June 24, 2014 3:44am

Mark Rumble is school chaplain at Shepparton East primary school.

Shepparton school principals have defended the role of chaplains, saying they provide important non-religious support for students and families.

Five High Court justices last week unanimously upheld a legal challenge against Federal Government funding arrangements for its school chaplaincy program.

Last month, the government set aside $245 million for the program during the next four years, but scrapped funding for non-religious counsellors.

Debate now continues about the funding model, specifically whether restrictions will be imposed and whether it should include secular welfare workers.

Shepparton principals say their non-secular chaplains play vital roles.

Shepparton High School principal Phil Squires said the school had had a chaplaincy program for 53 years.

‘‘They are part of the fabric of the school, they really are a key member,’’ Mr Squires said.

He said a school chaplain was employed five days a week and worked alongside a welfare co-ordinator and a school nurse.

Mr Squires said although a chaplain might have personal religious convictions, they were not employed to discuss or preach religion.

‘‘It’s not their role. They just have a set of caring values,’’ he said.

He said the school’s female chaplain had just been appointed to a teaching role and the school was looking for a new chaplain.

He said funding for the role was split between the Federal Government and the school.

Orrvale Primary School principal Adam Brennan said his school employed John Stewart as chaplain two days a week and parents must give permission for any religious discussion.

‘‘It’s another friendly face in the yard at recess or lunchtime. It’s an important role. Only five per cent would be religious,’’ Mr Brennan said.

Bourchier St Primary School principal Judy Park said chaplain Richard Poole was employed three days a week and was a highly valued staff member.

‘‘Every survey we send out comes back with positive comments about the work Richard does. He builds relationships with families, runs breakfasts and visits kids in hospital,’’ Ms Park said.

She said Mr Poole’s role was not a religious one.

‘‘He’s not teaching religious instruction at the school,’’ she said.

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