Parents angered over 'stolen generation' lesson
Parents are outraged after young students experience a small example of what happened to the stolen generation in a role play lesson.
Kynan Wykes, 10, and his year 4 class thought they were starting a normal school day when a nun walked into the classroom at 9.30am on Tuesday, holding a letter that she said came from the Prime Minister's office.
Their parents weren't looking after them well enough and they would be taken away, she told students at St Justin's Catholic primary school in Oran Park. They didn't believe it at first and some of the students went to the teacher to ask if it was true. She said it was real, and several started crying.
Some couldn't eat their lunch and Kynan started thinking of ways to escape before the end of school day.
Stolen Generations lesson attracts controversy
A Catholic school is facing strong backlash after students were told they would be taken from their parents as part of a lesson about the Stolen Generations. Vision: Seven News
It wasn't until about 2.50pm that they were told it was all part of a lesson on the Stolen Generations and were asked to write down how it made them feel.
"This is emotional abuse," Kynan's mother Natalie Wykes said.
"He came home and he said, 'Mum, I got really scared at school today'. This should never happen to another child."
Tim Gilmour, assistant to the director of schools in the Catholic diocese of Wollongong, which oversees St Justin's, defended the activity but said the school would look at how it could be "refined".
"This was intended to give students experience of a scenario that was part of our nation's history," Mr Gilmour said.
"We wanted to ask them how they would feel if we did that now.
"It was done without incident last year and quite a lot of parents said the activity was a good one."
Mr Gilmour said three year 4 classes at the school had done the activity, but only two were told early on that it was role play.
"I understand that it was not done as well as it should have been in one class," he said.
"Seven students became a bit distressed but they were reassured by their teacher and made to understand the context of the activity. [We'll] certainly look at how it can be refined to get the best outcome.
"And if it's deemed it's no longer appropriate, we'll look at whether it needs to be changed significantly or just amended to include more context."
Mr Gilmour said he was not aware of any other school in the Catholic system that ran a similar activity.
Mrs Wykes and another parent, Mary Jane Turner, whose nine-year-old son Tyrone is in the same year 4 class and suffers from anxiety, said they were now considering taking their children out of the school because of the incident.
"Tyrone came home very distressed and he was crying," Mrs Turner said.
"We just had to keep telling him, 'You're home now, we wouldn't let something like that happen'."
"He couldn't eat lunch because he was so upset. The school knows Tyrone's not your typical child and I just can't believe they would do that.
"I get doing it for a lesson, but doing it for the whole day ... building fear in children isn't going to teach them anything."
Mrs Wykes said she was looking at moving Kynan to the local public school after she complained to the St Justin's principal about the activity on Wednesday.
"While we were there Kynan said, 'The army can come and take us away at any time'. The principal said, 'You know that's not true', and Kynan said, 'No, they can', and [the principal] just sort of didn't say anything to that," she said.
"[The principal] said it probably did go a bit too far but then showed me an email from a parent congratulating the year 4 teachers on a job well done. When children start crying you know you should stop. My son said, 'I wanted to escape'."
Another parent at the school, who did not want to be named, said she supported the aim of the activity but thought it could have been done better.
"I don't have a problem with the idea of it because empathy's a great thing to have," she said.
"But I have some questions around if they made it clear that it was just a re-enactment.
"My son didn't seem that upset when he got home but he got a bit distressed when I asked him about it.
"A lot of people were saying, 'Can they do that, is that allowed?"'