Senna Camp, who has a 99 percent attendance rate, was refused last Friday off school for preparations and to spend time with family members who had flown in ahead of the ceremony on Saturday.
Yet despite the protestations from the girl’s parents and the leaders of Liberal Judaism, state-funded Wymondham High in Norwich refused to budge, saying that while time off was granted for religious ceremonies, extended leave was not.
In an angry letter, Annie Henriques, chair of Norwich Liberal Jewish Community, told the non-Jewish secondary school it was “very, very wrong” to refuse Senna time off to prepare, saying it sent a “negative message”.
The letter, signed by Liberal Judaism chief executive Rabbi Danny Rich and the shul’s Rabbi Leah Jordan, said Senna was “a positive
young woman who has had a remarkable start to life in a supportive family which values education highly”. It adds: “It’s wrong the school has chosen to take a contradictory attitude to a special event in her life. The school’s failure to authorise her absence sends a negative – and we believe wrong – message to Senna that her absence is not about learning when learning could not have been a more central component.”
In response, the school’s principal, Jonathan Rockey, said standards must be maintained, adding: “Absences for important religious observances are often taken into account but only for the ceremony and travelling time, not extended leave.”
Senna’s paternal grandparents are devout Christians, while her maternal side are observant Jews, with her maternal gran father having been a professor and well-known activist for human and animal rights.
The shul said Senna and her family have lived all over the world, including Rwanda, with her mother, Nicole Gross-Camp, a senior university researcher and her father, who is a Forest School leader at Robert Kett Primary School.
Describing her daughter as a “model student,” Gross-Camp this week said the school’s stance was “unfair,” adding that the Friday would have been “a chance to do any last-minute preparation, relax and spend time with her family” ahead of her batmitzvah, colloquially know as a ‘batty’.
She said: “It’s a very big life event and it is so rare and significant that family are coming over from America, bringing us together for the first time in nine years.”