Deluge of racist hate mail to head

11th April 2003 at 01:00
The head who removed pig stories from her largely Muslim school has received a death threat. Michael Shaw reports

A HEADTEACHER has received a death threat and dozens of letters containing racist abuse after her school removed books containing pigs from classrooms for fear of offending Muslim pupils.

Similar offensive letters have been sent to another school and to five education authorities after they were criticised in newspaper reports for acting in a "politically-correct" manner.

Park Road junior, infant and nursery school in Batley, West Yorkshire, made the headlines last month for advising its staff against reading stories such as The Three Little Pigs to pupils aged under seven, unless permission had been given by parents of Muslim children.

Head Barbara Harris said she had since been inundated with abusive phone-calls and received more than 50 offensive letters, including a death threat which she has passed to the police.

The letters, seen by The TES, are filled with obscene insults aimed at Mrs Harris as well as racist rants about Britain's Muslim population.

The head defended the decision to remove pig-related fiction from key stage 1 and early-years classes saying that some younger Muslim pupils had been uncomfortable hearing such stories. Approximately 60 per cent of her pupils are from Muslim backgrounds.

Mrs Harris said: "Because of the phone calls we have received we have had to stop Year 6 pupils from taking telephone duty. The worst letter contained very specific and unpleasant threats. I know the police would respond immediately if we ever needed them to, but obviously the staff are looking out for each other very carefully."

Mrs Harris said she suspected that many of the letter-writers had been encouraged to send in their views by far-right organisations.

It is a suspicion shared by staff at Tower Hamlets council who received similar hate-mail. It was one of five authorities accused of banning hot cross buns at schools, also for fear of offending Muslims.

Although the newspaper claims were immediately denounced as a fabrication by the councils, abusive messages were sent to the London borough and to Liverpool, York, Wolverhampton and Wakefield. Reports on the hot cross bun story remain on the websites of the Freedom Association, a right-wing pressure group, and the British National Party, which describes the five local education authorities accused as "liberal fascists".

Dr Phil Edwards, BNP spokesman, denied party members would have written hate-mail to schools or LEAs because they know they would face dismissal.

But he said that BNP members should express their concerns to schools, politely, if they were abandoning British traditions. "You know what teachers are like, they are very, very politically correct - and lots of them are women," he said.

The BNP will field 221 candidates in council elections this year on a manifesto which includes the return of corporal punishment and the scrapping of teacher training colleges that do not exclusively teach "traditional methods".

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