School questioned Muslim pupil about ISIS after discussion on eco-activism

Tony Gosling tony at
Wed Sep 23 22:25:40 BST 2015

School questioned Muslim pupil about Isis after discussion on eco-activism

Parents of 14-year-old at north London’s Central 
Foundation school take legal action after he was 
left ‘scared and nervous’ by experience
Dodd Tuesday 22 September 2015 17.46 BSTLast 
modified on Wednesday 23 September 201501.10 BST

A Muslim schoolboy was questioned about Islamic 
State after a classroom discussion about 
environmental activism, the Guardian has learned.

The parents of the 14-year-old are taking legal 
action after the boy said he was left “scared and 
nervous” by his experience with school officials 
in north London, and was left reluctant to join 
in class discussions for fear of being suspected of extremism.

The incident gives an insight into how schools 
and teachers are dealing with the pressures of 
the government’s new anti-extremism initiatives 
amid mounting concern about British youngsters being lured by Isis propaganda.

According to court documents, the boy was in a 
French class at the Central Foundation school in 
May 2015 and took part in a discussion, conducted 
mostly in French, about the environment. The 
teacher and pupils were said to have discussed 
those who use violence to protect the planet.

The teenager mentioned that some people use the 
term “ecoterrorist” to describe those who take 
action such as spiking trees with nails to 
prevent chainsaws from chopping them down.

A few days later he was pulled out of class and 
taken to an “inclusion centre” elsewhere in the 
school. During this meeting the schoolboy said 
one adult sat behind him, and another in front of 
him, whom he had not seen before. That person was 
a child protection officer, the Guardian has 
learned, who had been called in to establish if 
concerns about terrorism were legitimate.

The boy who wishes not to be named, told the 
Guardian: “I didn’t know what was going on. They 
said there had been safety concerns raised. If 
you are taken out of French class and asked about 
Isis, it is quite scary. My heart skipped a beat.”

He said he was baffled how mentioning the phrases 
“L’ecoterrorisme”, which he had learned from an 
earlier session of the school debating society, 
led to him being asked whether he supported Isis.

The boy and his parents say he was asked if he 
was “affiliated” with Isis. The school said he 
was asked if he had heard of the terrorist group, 
according to legal papers filed by his mother. 
The boy’s mother said her son came home from school “visibly distressed”.

The school said it was protecting the “welfare of 
the child in line with statutory and 
non-statutory guidance including the ’prevent 
duty’”, the government initiative that aims to 
stop people turning to extremism and terrorist 
violence, according to the legal documents.

His parents are seeking a judicial review, 
arguing the child was discriminated against and 
was singled him out because of his Muslim 
heritage. They also described the prevent policy 
as unfair. Recently, new laws placed a “positive 
duty” on schools to implement it.

The school and Islington council, which controls 
it, declined to answer questions about the 
incident. However, a spokesperson for Central 
Foundation Boys’ school said: “The safeguarding 
and the wellbeing of our young people is our primary concern.

“The school is confident that its safeguarding 
policies and the work of the professionals in the 
operation of these policies are proportionate, 
justified and place the wellbeing of the child to 
the fore. We do not comment on confidential 
matters relating to individual young people.”

The teenager said school friends have been 
supportive, especially white ones, viewing it as 
an injustice suffered because he is Muslim.

In the end no action was taken and the teenager 
has been attending the school, which is highly 
rated. He has been student of the week three 
times in last two years and said teachers were 
usually nice and took time to get to know the 
students. He has since dropped French, and 
ultimately wants to be a software engineer.

Last week David Anderson, the 
government-appointed independent reviewer of 
terrorism, said ”prevent” caused widespread anger 
among Muslim communities. “While good work is 
undoubtedly done under prevent, it is also the 
focus of considerably more resentment among 
Muslims than either the criminally-focused prohibitions,” he said.

In a sworn statement as part of the legal action, 
the teenager said he was in a morning French 
class when the discussion occurred. He said: “I 
had recently learned about eco-warriors and the 
demonstrations that they organise in the context 
of an extracurricular debating club in which I take part called Debate Mate.

“When I said this, I thought that [the teacher] 
looked concerned. I therefore explained what 
eco-warriors are, and that sometimes people who 
call themselves eco-warriors take action such as 
spiking trees with nails to prevent chainsaws 
from chopping them down, as the metal nails blunt 
the blades of the saw. I then said that some 
people refer to this as ‘eco­ terrorism’.”

Around one week later the teenager was in another 
French class when he was taken out to an 
“inclusion centre”. Describing what happened 
there, he said in his statement: “The lady behind 
the desk told me that she was a child protection 
officer. She then said to me that there had been 
“a safety concern raised”. I did not understand 
why she was talking about a safety concern and 
what this had to do with me. She went on to say: 
‘Your French teacher 
 I think, mentioned you used the word terrorism.’

“I remembered the lesson and explained that I had 
mentioned the phrase eco-terrorism in relation to 
eco-warriors and protecting the environment. I 
explained again what they were, and that they put 
nails in trees to blunt the blade of a chainsaw 
which is why people sometimes call them 
terrorists. The member of staff behind the desk 
looked at the member of staff behind me and said: 
‘Told you, he is a tree-hugger.’

“She made a hugging gesture with her arms and, 
looking at me, asked me if I ‘went around hugging 
trees’ like one of her relatives. She then asked 
me: ’Do you have any affiliation with Isis?’

“When she said the word Isis I immediately felt 
alarmed and extremely scared. I knew what Isis 
was as I have seen reports about them in the 
media. I knew that they behead and kill people. I 
could not think why she was asking me this or how 
it followed on from my French lesson ... and replied no.

“The member of staff sitting behind me, who had 
brought me to the inclusion centre, then asked 
me: ‘Do the chainsaws explode?’. Before I could 
answer the member of staff sitting behind the 
desk asked: ’Do you understand why there could be a misunderstanding?’”

The boy’s mother said: “He was presumed guilty 
because he was Muslim. As parents we are doing 
the right thing but still our son is accused. 
There was nothing in what he said that warranted 
him being taken out of class and treated as a criminal.”

She said she thought prevent was causing damage 
and stifling discussions that could stop 
extremism. “If the three girls from Bethnal Green 
who went to Syria, if they had said in class: ‘My 
dream is to marry a jihadi’, their peer group 
would probably have slapped them down,” she said

In a response to the legal action, Central 
Foundation school said it should be dismissed. 
According to legal documents related to the case 
it added: “It is unarguable that at the relevant 
time (May 2015) the school was required as part 
of its safeguarding responsibilities to be aware 
of the dangers of radicalisation.

“The approach of alerting the designated child 
protection officer by email regarding 
inappropriate references to terrorism and for 
[her] to have short 10-minute conversation with 
the claimant was a reasonable and proportionate response.”

The school added: “This safeguarding step can not 
be criticised, as the school had due regard to 
its overarching duty to safeguard pupils and the 
need to prevent them being drawn into terrorism.”

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