ANGRY parents are refusing to accept a council’s decision to segregate schoolchildren according to their religion and have lodged a formal complaint.
Parents of pupils at Bedlington’s St Benet Catholic High School have now launched a petition protesting against Northumberland County Council’s decision to have separate buses for Catholic and non-Catholic youngsters.
The News Post Leader revealed last week how new rules introduced by council chiefs ban youngsters of different faiths from mixing on school buses.
The move – described by some parents as a form of apartheid – has sparked fury in the town.
Parents say it is creating a divide between Roman Catholics and pupils of other faiths at the Ridge Terrace school.
Cherie Nelson lived through apartheid in her home country of South Africa and refuses to have to put up with another version over here.
The mother of two, including Zoe, 14, a pupil at St Benet Biscop Catholic High, this week took the matter to the Equality and Human Rights Commission in a bid to get the council’s decision overturned.
“Something has to be done about this,” said the 42-year-old, originally from Cape Town but now living in North Seaton.
“I came to England thinking I was coming to a better country, to get away from the prejudice my children might face, and then get this.
“I am reliving what I have done in my past. I am fuming that I have to yet again fight and get the decision overturned.
“I have had to fight before, and I don’t want to fight again, but I will.”
Mrs Nelson has launched a petition against the changes and is calling on other parents to back her in getting the decision reversed.
“I want every parent to sign the petition, so we can take it to the council and say that we want every child to get the same benefits. We do not want them separated because of their religion or any other reason,” she said.
“All children at the school should have access to the same facilities and should get the same benefits regardless of whether they are Catholic or non-Catholic, if they didn’t want to give everyone free transport, they shouldn’t accept non-Catholics in their school.
“If it is going to be free, it should be free for all. I would like the support of all parents – Catholic and non-Catholic – to get this overruled, so that all children are together and treated equally.
“We can get this changed.”
David Pearson, of Ashington, the father of a 13-year-old pupil at the school, said: “Like most parents whose children are caught up in this idiocy, I am utterly disgusted at the colossal amount of stupidity being displayed by these faceless bureaucrats.
“I would love someone to explain to me how providing two buses instead of one will save money. I won’t even mention the environmental implications.
“And to cap it all, the selection criteria for who travels on which bus is your religious beliefs.
“I must have slipped back into the Dark Ages when I wasn’t looking.
“What next from Northumberland County Council? Bring back the Spanish Inquisition and have my son tried as a heretic?
“This may sound preposterous, but it’s not much more preposterous than what is actually happening, segregating children on the basis of their religious beliefs.”
The three buses are believed to be costing the council more than £90,000 a year, minus the income generated by fares paid by non-Catholic students using them.
The decision to run separate buses for children of different faiths was made against the wishes of the school, with headteacher Con Todd saying he had appealed to the authority not to push ahead with the controversial plans.
Mr Todd said: “The county council decision not to allow our non-entitled, fare-paying pupils to travel on the same buses as entitled pupils was taken against the advice of the school and the diocese.
“We have been vigorously opposed to this decision throughout.
“The county council has been aware of our objections since discussions began earlier this year.
“The school advised county council officials of the implications of this decision. However, our advice was not heeded.
“The school has done everything within its power to persuade the county council to review its decision, but to no avail.
“We have taken every available step to minimise the impact of this decision on our families.”
Previously, children at the school had been able to share buses with their peers, but new regulations brought into force this term mean that separate buses are now run for pupils of different faiths.
Grandparent Sheila Dobson, of Craster Close in Blyth, added: “What a lot of tosh the council are talking.
“I have three grandchildren who attend St Benet’s – two who are non-Catholic and one who is Catholic, all living in the same area – and all getting their buses at the same stop.
“Two get on the non-Catholic bus and one on the Catholic bus. Where is the logic in that?
“The mother of the two who are non-Catholic now has to find £13 a week so they can attend the school they have been going to for several years.
“It is saying something when even the headteacher and the diocese are against it. Time for the council to think again, I think.”
The council said last week that it had removed transport for fare-paying children to cut costs but declined to comment further this week.
An online poll held on our website, www.newspostleader.co.uk, revealed that 95 per cent of you are opposed to the new transport policy dividing pupils of different faiths.