Jehovah's Witness leaders meet West Lothian education chiefs on Monday to tackle a long-standing dispute over school outings. The religious group claims that children are being unfairly barred from summer camps and field trips, because their faith does not permit blood transfusions and parents have refused to sign the council's EE2 holiday form.
This states that they agree to children receiving medical treatment, including a blood transfusion, in the event of an accident and protects teachers and schools against litigation. The council insists it is not operating a ban on Jehovah's Witnesses and hopes Monday's meeting will lead to a compromise over the wording of the form.
David McGrouther, West Lothian's vice-convener of education, said: "We are not unsympathetic to the problem, but the safety of the children is paramount. We feel this is a decision for medical practitioners and not one our teachers should have to make."
But Derek Smith, a Jehovah's Witness elder in Livingston, commented: "We believe our children's education is restricted, because of the council's insistence on the EE2 form."
Mr Smith claimed that the form specifically identifies blood transfusions and argues: "That can only apply to us."
According to Mr Smith the crisis has deepened in recent months, as more cases have come to light where children have been refused permission to join out-of-school activities.
One casualty of the dispute was a child who had paid for a school holiday in advance. His money was returned at short notice and he was told he could not attend. In another case, a child belonging to a school band was excluded from a music competition away from home, because the school would not take responsibility for him unless the form was signed.
Mr Smith said that in November he was forced to drive three children to Glasgow for the motor show, because they were barred from the school bus.
Many parents have signed the EE2 form, but scored out the part relating to blood transfusions. This compromise has not been accepted, Mr Smith says.
All Jehovah's Witness children carry a medical card outlining their objection to blood transfusions. Mr Smith claimed there are alternatives available, which are already used by surgeons and ultimately the decision on treatment is made by the appropriate consultant.