Every New Zealand school must be a safe and inclusive environment for students, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says, after a Tauranga school came under fire for its stance on gender.
Leaked documents revealed that Bethlehem College, a state-integrated Christian school, would use biological pronouns for students and the school would approve that their name "aligns with their biological sex".
The working document also included the separate use of male or female toilet facilities or single cubicles, separate male and female accommodation, wearing male and female uniforms and associated uniform policies and regulations, and male and female sports teams.
In a separate incident, a transgender student at the school wasn't allowed to wear the uniform of their identified gender or be called by their preferred name and pronouns. A Bethlehem College staff member told them "God doesn't make mistakes", Stuff reported.
Ardern said she takes the "very simple" view that schools in New Zealand are obliged to ensure that they have a safe and inclusive environment for all children.
"Obviously, some quite serious concerns have been raised around whether or not that is the case for the school in question," she said on Monday.
"The Ministry of Education has been asked by ministers to go and look in greater detail over whether or not that obligation is being met. So I'll leave the ministry to do that job, but again, every school has to be a safe and inclusive environment. It's the least we can expect in New Zealand."
Ardern added that the Ministry of Education may look at more broad concerns as they look into Bethlehem College, but she understood that they were looking at specific examples at the moment.
Bethlehem College Board of Trustees chairperson Paul Shakes has said the working document was created by the school's proprietor, Bethlehem College Ltd. He said that questions around gender and identity "are really difficult and sensitive" and "our heart goes out to those experiencing them".
"Gender identity has been an intense recent focus in our society, and we've been wrestling with questions around how to provide the greatest level of care and protection possible for students experiencing these questions," Shakes told the NZ Herald.
He said the school believed "we find our true identity in God" and questioned whether they would be giving "the highest level of care" to affirm to children they're "the opposite gender to their biological sex".
While the school acknowledged and "respected" people who had a different view of identity, Shakes said "we don't believe people get a 'randomly assigned' body at birth".
"We're concerned it's not wise or kind to support children down a path of experimental hormonal and surgical medical interventions."
But Shakes said the school "fully" accepted and respected that not every family or student in the community aligned with its beliefs.
"We believe God's good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female, and we believe that is, including from a scientific perspective, a perfectly reasonable belief to hold."
He added that Bethlehem College took its duty to give every child the "greatest level of care and protection" seriously and said that it had a duty and legal responsibility to maintain its special character.
Queer rights advocate Shaneel Lal said Bethlehem College's stance on gender "is dripping with transphobia".
"Bethlehem College admits that gender-affirming care for trans people is contrary to their beliefs and will attempt to stop trans students from getting affirming care," they told Stuff.
Lal said they've had students and former students contact them with experiences of sexism, homophobia, transphobia, and other forms of discrimination while at the school.
"There are numerous stories of conversion therapy at Bethlehem College. Students have shared that the counselling services and the teachers at Bethlehem College try to make them non-queer. Students report that teachers have verbally abused them for being queer," Lal said in an Instagram post.
"The students at Bethlehem College are crying out for help."