Sunderland headteacher apologises to Bangladeshi community over coronavirus letter

A headteacher has apologised after angering a Bangladeshi community by suggesting that the behaviour of “a number of families” was exposing staff, pupils and relatives to an increased threat of contracting coronavirus.

Karen Todd, who is in charge of Richard Avenue Primary School, in Sunderland, said in an initial letter that adults needed to “wake up” after allegedly taking part in a series of named activities “against the law”.

Her list included mehndi nights - where Asian brides meet with friends before marriages - weddings and other social gatherings.

The letter stated that families “have not only put themselves and their families at increased risk of Covid-19, but have therefore increased the risk to school pupils, their families, staff and their families.”

Karen Todd, the headteacher of Richard Avenue Primary School, right, has been accused of sending a "distasteful" letter to families of Bangladeshi children at the school in which she writes that the behaviour of a number of families "have not only put themselves and their families at increased risk of Covid-19, but have therefore increased the risk to school pupils, their families, staff and their families."

Following a host of complaints, Mrs Todd has issued a personal apology in a second letter just 24 hours later.

Her initial letter, which was dated November 3, began: "It has been brought to my attention that there have been a number of families whose behaviours, have not only put themselves and their families at increased risk of covid-19, but have therefore increased the risk to school pupils, their families, staff and their families.

“Mehndi nights have taken place in people’s homes: against the law.

“Weddings have taken place in family homes: against the law.

Richard Avenue Primary School, in Sunderland, was rated "good" after its last full report by education inspectors.

“Families have visited from the local area and further afield: against the law.

“Workers sharing cars, not wearing masks: against the law.

“Families awaiting test results and sending their children to school: against the law.

“It is adults who are making these totally irresponsible decisions and it needs to stop.

Karen Todd, the headteacher of Richard Avenue School, in Sunderland.

“I apologise, for those Bangladeshi families receiving this letter, who are like myself, trying to do the right thing.

"But I felt it was important for us as a whole community to be open and honest with each other.

“I ask myself, how many of those adults who are currently testing positive, or awaiting results, having acted irresponsibly; Have sent their children to school? Who are working as a taxi driver? In a restaurant or takeaway?

“This virus is highly contagious, significantly impacts more on the BAME community and can kill. I feel many people need to wake up, take responsibility and change their behaviour.”

In a second letter, sent to parents on November 4, she wrote: “I would like to apologise to the entire school community, particularly those from the Bengali community, for the letter that I issued to parents yesterday.

“I regret sending the letter, and I accept responsibility for the offence caused, as this was never my intention.

"I am passionate about the inclusive and diverse education of our children and I am truly sorry for my actions.”

Governors at the school – which describes itself as “a vibrant, multicultural primary school” – are expected to issue a statement shortly.

The Sunderland Bangladesh International Centre, in Tatham Street, which represents the city’s estimated 7,000 Bangladeshi community, is writing to the governors to complain about the initial letter.

Manager Abu Shama, who has one child at the school, said the centre had been inundated with hundreds of complaints from as far away as London via phone, email and social media.

He added: “We are very saddened by the language and tone in the letter, which we find distasteful.”

He went on: "I am not saying that people haven’t followed the lockdown rules 100%. But which community has?

"So why just single out an individual community?

"Or if she knows who is responsible for what she has said has happened, why didn’t she ring those families?

"The first we knew of all this was when we got this letter.”

Centre chairman Syed Khalid Miah said: “We are very upset and very disappointed by the language in the letter and did not expect that from someone who is supposed to be a role model for the community.

"A school should be for education and not for aggravating individual communities.”

Richard Avenue was rated as “good” – the second highest of four grades – when it received its last full Ofsted inspection in 2014.

Inspectors said “pupils’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development is exceptional”, adding: “Discrimination of any kind is not tolerated and all pupils have an equal opportunity to succeed.”

The school was again ranked “good” following a short inspection in 2018 and its website says: “Headteacher Karen Todd has been a stable presence at the school for over 10 years now. Under her guidance the school has grown from strength to strength.”

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