Mellons Bay School

Primary School criticised for Compelled Speech

It’s Fire Officer, not Fireman! An Auckland primary school is being criticised for pushing “Compelled Speech” onto its students. Compelled Speech is in direct opposition to Free Speech.

At Mellons Bay School, students must “use and require the use of preferred pronouns”, and use gender neutral language e.g. Police Officer, Fire officer, instead of Policeman, Fireman. One of the school’s parents informed The Free Speech Union (FSU) who subsequently posted an open letter to Mellons Bay School principal Colleen Margison. Thus far, there’s been no response from the school.

Free Speech should not be the casualty here, as Mellons Bay School pushes for more diversity and inclusivity. Compelled Speech is never acceptable, especially when it’s being pushed onto primary-aged children.

Read the full story below (By Chris Harrowell for Times Online):

A lobby group that fights for people’s right to speak their mind is asking questions of an east Auckland school about its policy on pronoun use.

The Free Speech Union (FSU) posted an open letter from its chief executive, Jonathan Ayling, to Mellons Bay School principal Colleen Margison on social media on September 21.

The letter was copied to Pakuranga MP Simeon Brown and is about the “alleged compelled speech” of the school’s pupils, according to the FSU.

Ayling tells Margison the organisation was recently approached by one of its members, who is one of the school’s parents, alleging Mellons Bay School will “use and require the use of preferred pronouns”.

Pronouns are the words people use to express their gender identity, such as he, him, she and her.

The letter references a PDF document the organisation says it was sent in which reference was made to a seven-point response to a parent’s questions.

One of the questions asks if students who do not comply with pronoun preferences will be disciplined, and if so, how.

According to the PDF document the school responded: “Behaviours that exclude or aim to hurt or depreciate someone would be addressed.

“Gender-neutral language can help create a more inclusive society where individuals of all genders are recognised and respected and encourages language that is inclusive, and respectful i.e. Police Officer, Fire officer, instead of Policeman, Fireman.”

Ayling tells Margison in the open letter such “compelled speech” may be a “direct breach of the speech rights” of the school’s pupils and asks her to respond.

He also says the organisation notes the school requires its staff to use pupils’ preferred pronouns but such a requirement cannot be “legitimately placed on to students too”.

“Due to a number of factors, including the duty of care and the power imbalance, expectations on the way teachers relate to students are naturally different to the expectations that can be required of how students relate to each other.

“Further, an important distinction exists between constraining the speech of a student towards another, and compelling the speech of a student towards another.

“The requirement to use the preferred pronouns of students, under threat of punishment, stands to coerce a student into an ideological position that is legitimately debated and dissented from within our society.”

There is no reference in the school document to a pupil being “disciplined” if they do not comply with preferred pronoun use.

Another question from a parent in the document asks if the school’s staff are compelled by policy to comply with student requests for preferred pronouns.

The response states: “Teachers must create a safe and inclusive culture where diversity is valued. Please see our ‘Health, Safety, and Welfare Policy’ which you can access through our website.”

The Times contacted Mellons Bay School and the Ministry of Education for comment on the FSU’s open letter and received a response from the ministry’s Isabel Evans, Hautu (deputy secretary) Te Tai Raro (north).

“The boards of all schools, including state-integrated schools, are required, under s127 of the Education and Training Act 2020, to be inclusive of, and cater for, students with differing needs, and to make sure the school is a physically and emotionally safe environment for all students,” Evans says.

“Schools are required to have clear policies and procedures to promptly address and resolve any complaints or concerns raised in the school environment, including about racism, discrimination and bullying.”

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