October 9th, 2009 16:59 EST
UK School Bans Kirpan Forcing Sikh Out of School
Student Without School for 4 weeks is Admitted in a Private School Yesterday
"The Compton School`s decision is a blow to religious freedom in Barnet schools whilst schools throughout the UK have accommodated Sikh students who wear a Kirpan. The school should recognise that the Kirpan poses no greater risk to other students than scissors, cutters or cutlery that exist in greater numbers in schools and are regularly handled by students ," said Mejindarpal Kaur, UNITED SIKHS Legal Director .
London, U.K. - After two years of negotiating with his school, a 14 year old Sikh boy was told by his North London school that he would no longer be allowed to wear his Kirpan that he had been wearing for two years, because it posed a health and safety risk. On the first day of school last month, he attempted to attend classes at The Compton School, but was escorted out after he told his teachers that he was wearing his Kirpan, which is a sheathed scimitar, one of the five kakaar ( articles of faith), as an initiated Sikh, he must wear at all times. An award winning student who is starting his crucial GCSE year, J Singh (who is a minor, hence not named) had been out of school for 4 weeks until yesterday, when he obtained admission in a private school after his family took a loan to pay his Â£6,000- a- year fees.
The legal costs of engaging Bindmans LLP have exceeded Â£6000. If you wish to assist the family to pay J Singh`s private school fees and legal fees incurred to date and in the future, please donate at www.unitedsikhs.org/donate
UNITED SIKHS has been meeting with community leaders to consider the way forward so that Sikh students may be able to practise their faith freely.
After J Singh was turned away from The Compton School, the Barnet Council`s Director of Children`s Services, Robert McCulloch-Graham and the Council`s legal advisor, Lanna Childs, met UNITED SIKHS legal director, Mejindarpal Kaur and J Singh`s family. Lanna Childs insisted that J Singh was not `excluded` from school as he could return if he removed his Kirpan. Mr Mc Culloch said that since J Singh was not excluded there was no duty for the Council to find him an alternative school, even though he was of compulsory education age.
"Why is a Sikh student being asked to choose between his education and his faith?" Mejindarpal Kaur asked Mr. McCulloch, to which he replied, that the school governors had agreed that J Singh could wear a two inch `kirpan` from tip of handle to blade, which is welded shut in its sheath.
"We had informed the school that the two-inch alternative is a replica and not a Kirpan, hence not acceptable to J Singh or the community," Mejindarpal Kaur informed Mr Mc Culloch.
Prior to the exclusion, UNITED SIKHS had contacted the Equality and Human rights Commission who offered to provide a mediation service which was declined by the school. We also obtained legal advice from Helen Mountfield, a senior barrister who had represented Sarika Singh in her Kara case last year. The School refused to budge despite representations by Bindmans lawyers following counsel`s advice.
UNITED SIKHS has written a letter, cosigned by a number of Sikh organizations, to Ed Balls MP, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families and also sought assistance from the chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Sikhs, Rob Marris MP and chair for APPG for Punjabis John Mcdonnell MP. Both also wrote to Ed Balls MP. You may read UNITED SIKHS` letter to ED Balls MP here.
In reply to Rob Marris` letter to Ed Balls, Diana Johnson, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Schools, stated that the non-statutory guidance to schools on the wearing of Kirpan explains that schools should be fully aware of the religious observances of Sikhs and the need to deal with this issue sensitively.
"We expect disputes. to be resolved locally. The Department (of Children Schools and Families) does not usually intervene. If challenged, it would ultimately be for the courts to decide if the school is justified in restricting the wearing of the Kirpan in this case," Diana Johnson said.
"The Compton School`s decision is a blow to religious freedom in Barnet schools whilst schools throughout the UK have accommodated Sikh students who wear a Kirpan. The school should recognise that the Kirpan poses no greater risk to other students than scissors, cutters or cutlery that exist in greater numbers in schools and are regularly handled by students ," said Mejindarpal Kaur. Sikhs have a statutory exemption under the Criminal Justice Act 1988 that allows them to wear a Kirpan in public, including at schools.
For the last five weeks, as parents saw their children settle into a new academic year, J Singh`s family was desperately looking for a school for their son.
"We knew that no school in the Barnet borough would take my brother as they would be bound by the same legal advice given by the Council`s lawyers. We looked at schools in other boroughs even though it meant my brother would have to travel an hour each way to school or live away from home. Even that was a challenge as schools had a waiting list and it was too late to join school in the 10th year as most schools took new admissions at year 7," said Ravjeet Singh, J Singh`s elder brother.
"We were hopeful that a Sikh faith school in Hayes, the Guru Nanak Sikh School, would accommodate my son. However, they too turned us away saying they have a long waiting list," said J Singh`s father, Bhupinder Singh.
UNITED SIKHS encourages the Sikh community to wear their kakaars, fearlessly exercise their freedom of religion, and to contact us with any problems, concerns, or incidents of discrimination.
To read a previous press release on UNITED SIKHS advocacy efforts for kakkar please visit: http://www.unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-05-10-2009-00.html
Help us tailor our advocacy initiatives for the greatest global impact by participating in the Global Sikh Civil Rights Survey.
The legal costs of engaging Bindmans LLP have exceeded Â£6000. If you wish to assist the family to pay J Singh`s private school fees and legal fees incurred to date and in future, please donate at www.unitedsikhs.org/donate
UNITED SIKHS is a registered charity in the UK and if you are a tax payer and sign a Gift Aid declaration, we will receive, from the Inland Revenue, an additional 28 pence for every pound you donate.