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Ogre school denies preaching at pupils

The principal of Ogre central elementary school has denied that pupils are being subjected to religious indoctrination following a discussion about religion in which only representatives of Christian religious groups held the floor, reported Latvian Television January 10. 

''What is this madness? The 7th-grade students of the Ogre central elementary school are forced into the school hall, made to listen to the speeches of pastors, and are handed such leaflets!" said the father of a student on the social network "Twitter".

The school maintains that students were not being preached at but were taking part in an educational project designed to help them debate, discuss and express their opinions on various socially important issues. This time around, religion was discussed in the format of a panel discussion.

"This discussion was really like that, where young people asked questions - how did the world come to be, who is this God and where did he come to be? As a school, we believe that we have no taboo topics. The school is an environment where everyone can ask any question and receive answers to the questions we are interested in. Agitation as such did not take place - that was not our goal either," explained Dace Bondare, principal of the Ogre central elementary school.

However, only representatives of religious denominations – Lutheran, Catholic and Baptist priests and pastors – were involved as 'experts' in the panel discussion, which would seem to reduce the likelihood that secular or dissenting beliefs were given equal weight in the discussion, or indeed those of non-Christian religious traditions.

In addition teachers distributed leaflets to the children asking about their sins, the Day of Judgment and similarly loaded questions.

"The basic format, in my opinion, was successful. There are two things where improvements would be needed when continuing this type of discussion. Firstly, it is important that there is also a person with a different or opposite opinion on the stage. And secondly, there should be no promotional materials distributed," said Igors Grigorjevs, head of the Ogre District Education Department.

The school said it will continue the discussions, but in the future promises to make sure that representatives of different opinions will be represented, and to more carefully evaluate whether it is appropriate to hand out what is essentially advertising materials to students. The school will also inform parents in advance about the topics under discussion.

"This is the first time we've done something like this, and we're learning too," Bondare said.

The incident has also drawn the attention of the State Service for Education Quality, which has asked the school to provide an explanation.

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