Aontú has slammed an integrated secondary school in Belfast for its “absence of balanced provision” following a placard-making workshop advocating for abortion held as part of a ‘Feminism In-School’ conference in the school last Saturday.
One poster made at the event held in Hazelwood College in Belfast read “Get your rosaries off my ovaries.” The event was held in collaboration with abortion campaign group, Alliance for Choice Derry, abortion provider Informing Choices and politicians including Nichola Mallon of the SDLP.
An Alliance for Choice workshop at the conference was described as an ‘Introduction to feminist activism & placard making’. This segment was touted as an “Introduction to feminist activism aimed at young people who want to learn about feminist activism. A short presentation about the history of feminist activism, create your own feminist chants. Placard making workshop. We will showcase our placards afterwards with a march around the school.”
Northern education spokesperson and Aontú candidate for East Derry, Gemma Brolly, has expressed concern regarding a “lack of respect and inclusivity illustrated by an Integrated School who prides itself on delivering ‘balance’”.
Ms Brolly said that the conference, and in particular, photos of the event shared on social media of pupils holding signs reading ‘Keep your rosaries off my ovaries’ and ‘Silence is not an option: my body, my choice’ raise serious questions in the true commitment and provision within this Integrated school and perhaps others regarding inclusion, respect and diversity.
Ms Brolly cited the Department of Education in Northern Ireland’s vow on integrated education which reads: “Integrated Education brings children and staff from Catholic and Protestant traditions, as well as those of other faiths or none, together in one school.”
The Aontú spokesperson continued: “This school promotes itself based on vision and values such as “inclusion”, with policies ensuring ‘a welcoming and inclusive environment for all.’ It explains how its board of governors work to ‘maintain a reasonable balance between Catholic and Protestant students.’
“Unfortunately, this was not the case last week. There is no respect for diversity or faith evident in social media posts relating to this school’s event, under the direction and support of the SDLP, unless of course we will see a follow-up very soon which will genuinely “promote, protect and improve an ethos of diversity, respect and understanding” as the Integrated Education Bill confirms it shall do.
“Those hurt and left out in the cold by this will perhaps feel a little more ‘included’ and ‘respected’ if, in the genuine interest of ‘balance’, those representing other available ‘feminist’ views are welcomed and invited to share this knowledge and perspective. This school may then well be the true example described within Integrated Education legislation, the example of what they themselves define as remaining “faithful to the true values of what an Integrated School should be,” Ms Brolly said.
Ms Brolly, a teacher, also said that questions must be asked relating to the political nature of the event within an educational setting which also involved staff.
“The question must also be asked regarding the influence of a political party within an educational setting, particularly involving staff. I trust this was permitted by the Board of Governors prior to the event, which again emphasises the duty on this Board to fulfil their aim and vision, maintaining balance in this instance and always. We in Aontú will continue to strive for an education system which truly respects and includes ALL children, with no child left behind.”
Well-known Belfast priest Fr Paddy McCafferty also slammed last week’s event on social media, as criticism continues to mount online.
“This is Hazelwood Integrated College, hosting a pro-abortion event for their students, complete with anti-Catholic slogans. Nicola Mallon can no longer pretend to be “pro life” as she tweets in full support of the event,” Fr McCafferty said.
He referenced the participation of SDLP MLA Nichola Mallon, who tweeted about the event and took part in the conference’s ‘Political panel discussion: Why do we need more women leaders in NI?”
The school’s own ‘Hazelwood Feminist Society’ and Hazelwood College teacher Charlotte Carson opened the workshop. Ms Carson, an SDLP candidate for East Belfast and founder of the Feminism in Schools Network, also chaired the panel discussion/Q&A at the event, entitled “How to be a feminist activist.”
Abortion provider Informing Choices also spoke at the event in a session entitled ‘Menstrual Awareness, reproductive rights & feminism’. Alliance for Choice said they had been “looking forward” to the event “all month” in a Twitter post.
So excited!! We have been looking forward to this all month 💗💗💗💗 https://t.co/8ENDiqkPWa
— Alliance for Choice Derry (@a4cderry) March 9, 2022
However, when Hazelwood Integrated was contacted by Gript for comment, school principal Maire Thompson, denied that the school had “any prior knowledge” of the content of the event or workshop.
The school’s principal Maire Thompson told us that the school would not be commenting on the “externally organised event”. She added that, “The school had no input into the organisation and content of the event or workshop, or any prior knowledge of the content.”
Ms Brolly of Aontú says she plans to write to the Independent Education Review Panel regarding the event and its ‘reflection’ on Integrated Schools.