LONDON // A British teacher is suing his former school, claiming he was sacked for reporting that children as young as eight were making anti-Semitic and anti-Christian remarks. Nicholas Kafouris also claims that Year 4 pupils - mainly Muslims whose families originated in Pakistan or Bangladesh - hailed the September 11 bombers as heroes and martyrs.
Mr Kafouris, 52, is suing his former school in inner London for racial discrimination before an employment tribunal. Hearings on the claim resume tomorrow. The case is being seen in the UK as an alarming example of how militant Islam is affecting even the youngest minds in some inner-city schools. Mr Kafouris, who is originally from Cyprus and is a Christian of the Greek Orthodox tradition, earned £30,000 (Dh172,000) a year at the school, where he had worked for more than a decade. He told the tribunal he was forced to leave because of the racist and anti-Semitic behaviour of the children.
He said he had once brushed the arm of a Muslim child as they passed in a corridor. The child turned to him and said: "Don't touch me: you're a Christian." He also told the tribunal in London that others said "we want to be Islamic bombers when we grow up" and that they hated Christians and Jews because they were "our enemies". Mr Kafouris has told the hearing that he filled out the proper paperwork, but said that Jill Hankey, the headmistress, did nothing about it.
He also said the school's deputy head had warned him not to challenge the things the children said. Lawyers for the school, however, have made counter-claims against Mr Kafouris, saying that he once told a Muslim girl to remove her headscarf because it was "pointless" and that he had told one class that "Christianity is better than Islam". The teacher denies saying any such thing at Bigland Green Primary School in Tower Hamlets, East London, where almost all of the 465 pupils are from ethnic minorities.
Mr Kafouris said there was a change in the pupils' attitudes after September 11. "Miss Hankey proceeded to excuse and justify the pupil's behaviour, conduct and remarks to me as if I had no right to be offended by the child's remarks and conduct," he told the tribunal. "I felt the head's behaviour and conduct towards me amounted to direct religious discrimination. I was intimidated in the way she spoke to me which indicated, 'Don't come back with such issues again'."
The result of this inaction, said Mr Kafouris, was that the children became bolder and their remarks more frequent. "In late November and December 2006, a number of unacceptable and blunt racist, anti-Semitic and anti-Christian remarks were being made by various children in Year 4 where I taught, such as: 'The Twin Tower bombers are heroes and martyrs'," he said. "Some children were expressing delight at the death and killing of people of other cultures and religions."
He claimed that one child had said he had been pleased a London lawyer had recently been fatally stabbed "because he's a Christian and English and we're Muslim", while another, during the telling of the story of Jonah and the whale, wanted to know if Jonah was Jewish because "I hate Jews". Mr Kafouris said he tried again to speak to Ms Hankey, but she was "hostile and offensive", telling him that the children only said these things because he lacked discipline in his classes.
He said he took stress leave in February 2007 after Margaret Coleman, the assistant head, warned him not to challenge the children about their remarks. Mr Kafouris became clinically depressed and was dismissed in April 2009. In a letter to the tribunal, Selima Chaudhury, a former colleague at the school, described Mr Kafouris as a "professional, excellent teacher". She added: "I never heard Nicholas make any comments about children's race, colour or religion. On the contrary, he respected and valued all the religions.
"As a devout Muslim myself, I know very well that Nicholas has never and would never make any adverse remarks to the children or the parents about Islam." Ms Hankey later admitted to the tribunal that she had not followed the guidelines on handling offensive remarks made by children about race or religion because, she said, she was unaware the guidelines existed. She said that in any case, there was a difference between a boy of 15 making an anti-Semitic remark and one of nine doing the same thing because the latter "was struggling to understand the real concepts of the differences of religions".
She added: "There's a difference between repeating factually and understanding the real meaning." Asked if she supported the pupils who made the remarks to Mr Kafouris, Ms Hankey said: "I am not condoning it. But I stand by what I said. It is the understanding. They have to be treated differently as a nine-year-old than if a 15-year-old had said it." email@example.com