#teacher | High Court hearing to stop LGBT lesson protests outside primary school begins

Parents, children and protesters demonstrate against the lessons about LGBT relationships (Picture PA Archive)

Moves to permanently ban demonstrations against LGBT lessons outside a primary school began today amid further protests.

Anderton Park Primary School has been at the centre of a series of demonstrations by those opposed to the children’s lessons.

Fearing the safety of staff and children, and with the protests audible within the school, Birmingham City Council took out an interim injunction order to create an exclusion zone around the area in June.

Today’s hearing, which is being contested by the protest’s leader Shakeel Afsar, is the council’s effort to make the order stick.

Giving evidence today Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson, the school’s head teacher, said Mr Afsar  was ‘volatile and aggressive’ at a formal meeting and then tried to ‘whip up a frenzy’ on WhatsApp.

She also said parents had been invited to meetings and were consulted widely before an escalation of the protests.

Anderton Park Primary School, in Moseley, Birmingham, where a protest was being held outside over LGBT relationship education (Picture: PA)

Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson told the High Court in Birmingham: ‘There have been many meetings with many parents – we have put on several workshops and we have had informal meetings as well.

‘There have been numerous informal and formal chances to speak to us as a school’ but that ‘things changed very rapidly’ in February.

Answering questions from a barrister representing Mr Afsar, Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson told the court: ‘I invited him into my office.

‘He slammed his hand on my desk. He used the word ‘demand’ – ‘I demand of you that you do certain things’. It was volatile, it was aggressive.

‘I had never had a meeting like that before in 26 years of teaching. He set up a WhatsApp group that afternoon… trying to whip up a frenzy.’

Asked if she thought some protesters were ‘potential rowdies’ seeking a free-for-all, the head teacher said: ‘I don’t mind staunch objections but what I do mind is aggressive behaviour. I am not going to invite that kind of behaviour, when I don’t need to, into my school halls.’

Anderton Park head teacher Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson outside the Priory Law Courts in Birmingham (Picture:PA)

The school was teaching equality, but was not promoting homosexuality, said Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson, who agreed with the protesters’ barrister that some Muslims would feel ‘a tension’ between the books and their religion.

But she added: ‘For many Muslims in our school and our staff there is not a tension. The protesters were only ever a small number.’

She told the court some male protesters had turned up wearing balaclavas and others handed out leaflets, something she described as ‘unprecedented’ and ‘awful’.

The court heard a claim that concerns had been raised by one parent about a book featuring two male penguins looking after an egg, while Mr Afsar was said to have asked for a list of the literature being used.

During more than two hours of testimony, Mrs Hewitt-Clarkson said there were demands to keep some books locked in a cabinet which she thought was ‘the opposite of what equality is all about. It would make school segregated.

‘It’s the opposite of what education is about. It’s the opposite of what this country is about.

Protestors  demonstrating after injunction was granted barring action immediately outside Anderton Park Primary School (Picture: PA Wire)

‘Many of the protesters didn’t come to the meetings that we held. I never went out to the protesters – I just observed through my office or saw later on social media.

‘It’s quite hard to have a dialogue when people are chanting, ‘Head teacher, step down’ and ‘Sarah Hewitt-Clarkson is a liar’.’

Birmingham City Council’s director for neighbourhoods Robert James said the injunction was a response to protesters’ ‘behaviour’ causing harm and distress, and safety concerns, including for road users.

‘It’s not about the issue of the protest, it’s the manner in which they were conducted,’ he told the court.

The hearing continues on Tuesday.

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