The Victorian Court of Appeal has today refused an application for leave in the case where three parents alleged their children were being discriminated against; as they chose not to have their children attend Special Religious Instruction (SRI) classes at state primary schools.
In October 2012, the Victorian Civil and Administration Tribunal (VCAT) dismissed the application by the parents on the basis the parents had not established that their children were discriminated against as a result of not attending SRI classes. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the matter cannot proceed further.
"It is a very disappointing decision for the three parents who remain frustrated with the lack of instruction given to their children for 30 minutes each week, as a result of SRI being taught during normal school hours," said Holding Redlich partner and legal advisor to the parents Andrea Tsalamandris. The complaints were commenced in March 2011 by Holding Redlich, acting for the three parents on a pro bono basis. Tsalamandris added that while the case was ultimately unsuccessful in the court, it brought about important changes in government policy.
Soon after the complaint was issued at VCAT, the Victorian Government changed its long standing policy to require parents to have to opt-in their children in to learn SRI, rather than to have an opt-out
policy. The Victorian Government also changed its policy to permit those children not attending SRI to
receive other instruction, provided it is not in core-curriculum.
"Although these are important changes, they do not go far enough," said Tsalamandris. "My clients have not seen any practical change in what is offered to their students in school. Although the new policy permits children to be offered instruction in activities such as ethics, cooking or community work, without a significant allocation of resources to schools, this will not happen. So for now, despite the change in written policy, it means very little in the class rooms. Children are still mostly being left to do silent reading in a corridor or the back of a class room."