Pupils told to attend religion trip or face penalty
Schoolchildren have been told they must attend a religious workshop or have a racial discrimination note recorded against them.
Angry parents, who objected to the outing on religious grounds, hit out today saying their children should not be 'called racist'.
The trip next week has been arranged by Littleton Green Community School in Huntington as part of the children's cultural education. Parents threatened to keep their children away from school that day in protest.
Now council chiefs have intervened and have insisted that parents have a right to keep their children away from the event if they choose.
And they have forced the school to withdraw the threat to put notes on pupils' records.
But mother Stacy Waldron, whose eight-year-old daughter is a pupil, said she felt 'blackmailed' by the school. The 26-year-old, of Midland Road, Huntington, said: "I feel my child will be branded a racist if I don't allow her to go. This is my choice, not hers, and she shouldn't have to pay for it."
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Another parent, mother-of-four Tracy Ward, of Island Road, said: "I was shocked by the letter. To be told my kids have got to attend this workshop is disgusting. Everyone should have a choice but that's my opinion and I don't want a stain on my kids' records as a result. They are not old enough to be called racist."
Her sister Donna Ward, 34, of Bracken Road, whose daughter attends the school, said: "It's not our religion. We should have a right to stop our children going."
Parents were informed of the outing and asked to contribute £5 towards travel costs.
After some voiced their opposition, they were sent a letter by headteacher Lynn Small stating: "Refusal to allow your child to attend this trip will result in a racial discrimination note being attached to your child's education record which will remain on this file throughout their school career. All absences on this day will be investigated for their credibility and will only be sanctioned with a GP sick note."
Around 100 pupils across four year groups are due to take part in the workshop at Staffordshire University where they will be shown Islamic artefacts. The event will be led by lecturers at the campus.
Mrs Small said exposing pupils to other faiths and cultures was part of the school's statutory duty. She said: "We are a mainly Christian school but we have to cover at least one other religion as part of the national curriculum.
"This visit is part of that. They would not be taking part in any religious practices. We have had similar workshops on a variety of religions in the past – including one on Islam – with no problems at all and the children have absolutely loved it. We have pupils and teachers at the school who belong to the Islam faith and it is right for the children to understand and appreciate their faith as well as their own."
But South Staffordshire MP Gavin Williamson said he was unhappy about children's records being given racial discrimination labels.
Stafford councillor and former headteacher Ralph Cooke said he thought the idea of an event to raise awareness of other religions was 'laudable' but said the school's actions were likely to have been 'counter-productive'. Staffordshire County Council spokeswoman Paula Wright said: "This is a school matter and the council was only contacted once the letter had been sent.
We believe it is important for children to find out more about different cultures. However, parents also have a right to withdraw their children from religious activities. Clearly it is not appropriate for comments about racial discrimination to be made in these circumstances."
A letter from the headteacher to parents sent last night apologised for 'any inaccuracies' in her previous correspondence.
She asked parents to 'on reflection' disregard a section of the earlier letter.
And she confirmed that pupils did not have to take part in the visit and that no racial tag would be attached to their school files.
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