Birmingham & Black Country

Birmingham LGBT row: Head teacher 'emotional' over protest ban

Image caption Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson said she was upset when the court order came through

A head teacher labelled a paedophile by protesters over her primary school's LGBT awareness teaching said she was emotional when demonstrations outside the gates were banned in court.

"I got very upset," Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson told BBC Breakfast following Friday's High Court injunction for streets around the Birmingham site.

But she said the order could inflame the situation after weeks of angry protests at Anderton Park Primary.

Some have vowed to continue protesting.

Birmingham City Council said it pursued the legal action in order to protect staff and pupils when they return from their half-term break on Monday.

On BBC Breakfast, Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said being at the centre of two months of demonstrations had included hearing people on megaphones "screaming about my school, about me", adding that a week ago "I was called a paedophile, and on social media I've been called a hater of Islam".

The injunction prohibiting the protests - led by mainly Muslim parents - is in place until 10 June when those against the equality teachings will be given the chance to make their case in front of a judge.

It also outlaws the use of social media to make offensive or abusive comments about staff at the school.

Hundreds of protesters
Image caption Hundreds of protesters joined the most recent demonstration at Anderton Park

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said it remained to be seen whether the order would ease the situation or worsen it.

"It has been inflammatory overnight because we've seen social medial posts already, which is interesting because that's one of the things that are banned and we'll see what happens with that.

"I'm a strong person, but I've had my moments. I had one [on Friday] in court; I got very upset just hearing [the judge] say [this situation] 'is not good'."

Shakeel Afsar Image copyright PA
Image caption Shakeel Afsar, who has co-ordinated the protests outside Anderton Park, has vowed to carry on demonstrating

Protesters' views have ranged from saying primary school children are too young to learn about same-sex relationships to suggestions the teaching indoctrinates children into gay lifestyles.

They are united in saying same-sex relationships are incompatible with the teachings of Islam.

Ms Hewitt-Clarkson said parents had a right to protest but it came with "consequences if it spills over into hatred or causes distress and alarm and harassment, which it has done to a huge extent for my staff and the children in my school".

She added she had the right by law to teach children about equality, telling Breakfast "we're a school, not a church or a synagogue or a mosque or a temple and things will be different in schools [compared to] homes or in places of worship".

In England, relationships education will be compulsory for all primary pupils from September 2020.

Protesters have told the BBC they intended to gather next week on a street further away from Anderton Park, in Sparkhill.

Shakeel Afsar is the protests' leader, although he has no children at the school. In a social media post on Friday, he said: "We will safeguard our values, and our family values, and if this government wants to use tactics to silence us, we will challenge you."

Ch Supt Kenny Bell from the West Midlands force said: "As police we have a duty to uphold the interim injunction and the power to arrest those who breach the conditions of the order - those found doing so may be sent prison.

"However, we remain committed to ensuring any protests pass lawfully and with minimal disruption to pupils, parents, staff and local residents."

Nazir Afzal, the former chief prosecutor for the north-west of England, has been brought in as a mediator between the school and parents. He told Breakfast that the equality teaching, incorporating information about gay relationships, made no reference to sex.

"But there are men," he said, "walking around outside the school with documents downloaded from the internet suggesting [the] classes are teaching this kind of stuff".

Nazir Afzal
Image caption Mediator Nazir Afzal says hundreds of parents are happy with the school

He said non-parents, "whatever their agenda", needed "to walk away" so parents could continue their dialogue with the school.

Hundreds of parents are happy with the school, he added, but "many of them are under a tremendous amount of pressure not to go in and speak to Sarah [Hewitt-Clarkson]".

He told Breakfast: "By all means protest. Protest outside the town hall, the education department, but protest against adults, not against five and six-year-old children and the people trying to look after them and safeguard them and teach them."

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