Free speech row as Redbridge pupils are banned from showing support for Palestine

Redbridge parents are furious after their children were banned from showing support for Palestine in school.

Students in a number of schools across Redbridge put up posters or drew flags on their hands to support Palestine following recent Israeli attacks.

As a result, a number of schools reportedly told students they would be disciplined if they showed support or even, in some cases, talked about the conflict.

A Change.org petition criticising one school for its “unwarranted censoring of the flag” has been signed more than 500 times in less than 24 hours.

The petition, directed at Woodford County High School, reads: “We cannot stress enough the level of shock, disappointment and anguish that we… feel towards the way in which this issue has been managed.

“Extending sympathy towards victims of senseless devastation, displacement, and violence should not be a divisive issue.

“We reject the implication that showing support for a people suffering a humanitarian crisis is rooted in trying to cause division within the school community.

“Showing support towards Palestinians is not tantamount to perpetuating anti-Semitic ideals.”

The petition argues it is “glaring hypocrisy” for the school to ban support for Palestine when it publicly expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

A relative of a student at Valentines School in Gants Hill, Ilford, claimed pupils were told in an assembly that they “aren’t allowed to talk about Palestine as it is offensive”.

In a letter to parents, the school wrote: “Advice from the (council) is that any use of political colours, symbols, flags or messaging is not appropriate in a school setting.”

Valentines School chose not to respond to a request for comment, indicating the council would respond on their behalf.

Redbridge Council confirmed it recently wrote to all schools in the borough “to remind them of their responsibility to manage discussions on complex issues”.

A spokesperson said: “This is in line the Education Act, to prevent the promotion of partisan political views in schools.

“By creating opportunities and safe spaces for balanced discussion and debate, schools also secure students’ rights to free speech.

“Through discussions, teaching and learning on complex and sensitive matters, Redbridge schools create an environment where debates can take place in a calm and respectful manner.

“This empowers students to voice their own feelings and beliefs, while at the same time showing tolerance and respect for the views of others.”

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Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter