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Thursday 23 October 2014


Sacked teacher to battle on, as thanks pours in

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By GayNZ.com Daily News staff - 4th October 2012

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Nigel Studdart (Close Up)
As Nigel Studdart arms up to fight his sacking from a Whangarei Catholic school, he’s revealed the thanks he’s received from gay young people from the school and across the country, one message which even brought both him and his wife to tears.

Pompallier Catholic College’s Board of Trustees last month fired the popular science teacher because he supported students who protested the principal Richard Stanton's column against marriage equality, in a school newsletter.

Among the five reasons he’s since been given are contribution to a Facebook page against the column, organising student opposition and speaking to the media about the situation.

Studdart is fighting the decision with the support of secondary teachers’ union the PPTA. He’s still struggling to get his head around the fact that he, in 2012, has been dismissed for expressing a personal opinion.

“I find it hard to believe that we’re actually engaged in this battle now,” he says. “It seems madness.”

He tried to engage with the principal, he says, offering to bring in an external mediator right up until the Board meeting where he was sacked. He’d hoped Stanton could be enlightened.

“I think sometimes as the principal of a school you become quite insular and wrapped up in your opinion. I think it’s important to realise the rest of the world out there has different opinions and they’re changing,” Studdart explains.

It wasn’t a conscious decision, to support the students, but something he explains simply happened naturally. He says the school’s own doctrine encourages pupils to think for themselves and be constructive in their debate and opinions. “How can we tell them that they’re not allowed to hold a contrary opinion and try and shut that opinion down? As a teacher, surely your primary responsibility is to encourage your students to think for themselves.”

On the feedback

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File photo
“I’ve had so many cards and messages from parents that it’s just wonderful really,” Studdard says.

“The gay community has been incredibly supportive and incredibly inclusive. And it’s really nice to have that support. I really appreciate it.

“I mean obviously I feel really upset that I’ve lost my job, but I couldn’t have done anything else quite honestly. And every time I get another message it really confirms what I did was the right thing to do.”

When asked about the impact on gay students at the school, and whether it’s a safe environment for them, he is clearly extremely concerned. Not so much about prejudice within the student body, who he says are mostly “really well-balanced and outstanding men and women”, but about the message the school is sending.

“Far more of a concern to me is a culture which would endorse that sort of prejudice, and that really worries me. It’s a shocking message, I think, that the school is sending to the community and to the children. And I think the reaction of parents in terms of withdrawing their kids from the school and looking for other schools certainly endorses that.”

The upshot is he’s had several messages from gay students at Pompallier, thanking him for his stance, saying they didn’t realise how much support they had in the school. “And I think that’s important. This is not an issue with other students,” he says.

Messages have come from young people outside the school too, one which brought both he and his wife to tears. It was a thank you from a young man who went through the Catholic education system and had an awful time.

Where to from here?

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For now Studdart is running tutorials for students and will continue to do so up until exams. If he doesn’t get his job back, he’ll look for a new one next year. But with rolls falling and teaching jobs going in Whangarei, he is a little concerned about his prospects.

“But hey, that’s life, I’ll deal with that next year and see what we can do. But in the meantime I have by no means give up yet. I certainly will not be giving up without a fight.”

In fact he is absolutely confident he can win. “I’d be very upset if I didn’t,” he says.

“But we are fighting, I suppose, the Catholic Church here and that’s a fairly large organisation to take on,” he laughs wryly.

“But surely free speech is something we’re all entitled to - including students and their parents.”


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