Primary school protests against LGBT teaching to continue despite injunction
Protesters demonstrating against LGBT teaching at a Birmingham primary school have vowed to continue their campaign despite an injunction.
Demonstrators vowed to carry out a fresh protest later this week – but away from Anderton Park Primary School’s gates.
An interim High Court injunction secured by the council has banned demonstrations taking place within an exclusion zone around the site.
The legal bid bars those objecting to use of particular relationship education materials from protesting anywhere near the school.
On Monday, protesters held a press conference outside Birmingham City Council’s offices in the heart of the city, labelling the seeking of an injunction “unjust” and “irresponsible”.
Protests have been sparked over some parents’ concerns about elements of the teaching materials, including two books: one about two male penguins who raise an egg, and another about a boy who wears a dress.
The action had spread from the Parkfield Community Primary School, in Saltley, where similar objections were raised.
Rosina Afsar, who has two children at Moseley-based Anderton Park school, said: “We will challenge the injunction in court, we will also judicially review all of the unjust and irresponsible behaviour by the school and council.
“We are also left with no option but to continue with our peaceful protests, starting this Friday.”
Mrs Afsar, a stay-at-home mother with a seven-year-old son and daughter, four, at the school, added that parents had asked “again and again” for talks to discuss the material.
Speaking out publicly for the first time, she added: “In its arrogance, the school has consistently ignored us.”
Mrs Afsar, who is one of three individuals explicitly named on the injunction along with “persons unknown”, repeated a claim that on one protest last month 600 of the 700 pupils on roll were removed from lessons.
She was speaking while flanked by about a dozen other protesters, including her brother Shakeel Afsar and Amir Ahmed – both of whom are also named on the injunction.
The 33-year-old said the protesters had been “exceptionally affronted” by the money “wasted on fighting parents, instead of talking to them”.
Setting out their aims, she called on the relationship education “to be suspended”, a “proper consultation” with parents’ representatives to begin, and for future teaching to be “both age appropriate and religiously sensitive”.
The school’s headteacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson had labelled the protests “toxic and nasty” and signalled the intention to pursue an injunction, following repeated protests, before it was granted on Friday.
West Midlands Police, whose chief constable had called for an end to the mega-phone led demonstrations outside the school gates, has said it is investigating malicious messages sent to the head.
Earlier this week, lawyer Nazir Afzal, previously brought in to try and mediate a way out of the dead-lock, criticised the Government’s “cowardly” response to the protests, and the protesters themselves.
Mr Afzal said the Government had “failed to lead” on the issue, leaving the burden “unfairly on the shoulders” of headteachers.
He added equality was an “all or nothing” ideal, and said: “We cannot and must not pick and choose what victims of hate should be protected.”
Education Secretary Damian Hinds has called on the “unacceptable” demonstrations to stop.
However, last week the Conservative leadership candidate Esther McVey, said that “parents know best for their children”.
Amid building tensions, which has seen a group of counter-protesters reportedly egged, the school was forced to close early on the final day before the half-term break, with the council citing “safety” concerns.
Mrs Afsar said the campaign “was not and has not” been against Ms Hewitt-Clarkson or the school, but was “about parental and children’s rights”.
She added the demonstrations had always been “peaceful”, had “never” supported homophobia, and that protesters were not against the LGBT community.
A new High Court hearing has already been scheduled to hear from anyone objecting to the injunction, on June 10.
The protests have come five years after several schools in the same area of east Birmingham were swept up in the Trojan Horse scandal, triggered by documents alleging a plot by hardline Muslims to take over schools.
Steve Ball, who is the chair of governors at Rockwood Academy, was at the council house on unrelated business as the press conference broke up.
Giving his view when asked if there were similarities with the Trojan Horse scandal, he said: “I think these protests are a symptom of a broader problem, of parents in parts of Alum Rock and east Birmingham feeling disenfranchised.
“Part of the legacy of Trojan Horse was it left them feeling isolated and victims in the bigger situation.
“It is very sad that things have come to this, when mega-phone diplomacy is being used.”
Mr Ball, who is at the academy which – when previously known as Park View – had once at the heart of the Trojan Horse allegations, said he had had no first-hand involvement with what was going on at Anderton Park.
But he added parents should “join governing bodies” to get a voice, and called for “respect and tolerance of each others’ views and backgrounds”.
A source close to the protesters’ group have said they feel they are up against the “powerful institution” of the Government, and that many within the Muslim community feel they cannot speak out on the issue.
Although stressing they will abide by the injunction, they are prepared to be arrested, adding “our morality won’t change”.
They have also said that the protests could spread to other schools in a city where more than 70 schools have a majority of Muslim pupils on roll.
However, the source stressed the next protest on Friday, would comply with the injunction and happen outside the legal exclusion zone.
Councillor John Cotton, the city council cabinet member responsible for equalities, said: “The council believes all of our schools should be a safe place where all of our children can learn freely.
“That’s why we sought the injunction.”
He added: “We now ask there is a proper dialogue with the school and we encourage all parents to play their part in that.”