School at centre of driving ban controversy applies for state funding

School at centre of driving ban controversy applies for state funding

A strictly-Orthodox Jew
A strictly-Orthodox Jew

Demotix 15/04/2014A Chasidic school that has been criticised by the education secretary for banning children driven to school by their mothers has applied for state funding.

It emerged this week that Beis Malka Girls’ School in Stamford Hill, an independent institution run by the Orthodox Belz sect, has applied for voluntary-aided status from September, despite allegations of discrimination.

A spokesman for Hackney Council said that Sunday was the closing date for any comments or objections to state-funding for the infrastructure and running of the school.

Last week, the Secretary of State for Education said the community’s directive was “completely unacceptable in modern Britain”, but the Belz community has refused to change course, and school leaders endorsed the guidelines. Israeli Belz Rabbi Yissachar Dov Rokeach even suggested that pupils be expelled if driven in by their mothers from August.

The sect is one of the largest Chasidic groups in the UK, numbering several hundred, though Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has said their rules on female drivers fell outside the norms of mainstream Judaism.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission said any such measure would be “illegal discrimination”. A spokesman said: “It is unlawful to ban children from school attendance because their mothers, rather than their fathers, drive them there.”

The school’s letter to parents said the initiative had been prompted by “mothers of pupils who have started to drive” which it said had led to “great resentment among parents of pupils of our institutions”.

Morgan, who is also Minister for Women and Equalities, said the government was treating the matter “very seriously,” saying: “If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people they are breaching the independent school standards.” She added that she would “take any necessary action to address it”.

The head of the Belz boys’ school, Ahron Klein, said the directive was “guided by the Torah” adding: “We do not impose these guidelines on anyone who has not chosen to adhere to the mores of our community of his or her own free will.”

One of the only countries known to tolerate a ban on women drivers is Saudi Arabia, where the plight of women is well-documented, however this week most Belz community members seemed to support the ruling.

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