Sunderland school governors 'taking concerns seriously' after headteacher's 'distasteful' coronavirus letter
Governors at a school whose headteacher angered a Bangladeshi community with a “distasteful” letter about coronavirus have promised they are “taking the concerns seriously”.
Karen Todd, the head of Richard Avenue Primary School, in Sunderland, issued a personal apology just 24 hours after stating that the behaviour of “a number of families” was exposing staff, pupils and relatives to an increased threat of contracting Covid-19.
Her first letter, dated November 3, stated: “I feel totally let down by a small element of the Bangladeshi community.”
On November 4, however, a second letter to parents and guardians said: “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.”
Community leaders at Sunderland Bangladesh International Centre labelled her initial remarks “distasteful” and immediately vowed to complain to the school’s governors.
Chair of governors Rebecca Evens has since said in a statement released late on November 4: “Today we have been made aware of the content of a letter issued to parents yesterday, Tuesday 3rd November, from our headteacher.
"Richard Avenue Primary School is a vibrant, inclusive and multicultural primary school and I would like to assure you the governing body are listening to concerns raised by parents.
“As chair of governors, I can confirm the governing body are taking the concerns seriously and following school procedures, we are dealing with the situation appropriately.”
Mrs Todd said in her initial letter that adults needed to “wake up” after allegedly taking part in a series of named activities currently “against the law”.
Her list included mehndi nights - where Asian brides meet with friends before marriages - weddings at homes and family visits “from the local area and further afield”.
The first letter continued: “My staff and I are trying to do the right thing for your children, each other and our families and I feel totally let down by a small element of the Bangladeshi community.
“I am not trying act as the Covid police, but when your actions impact on my school community and potentially people’s lives, I am going to get involved.”
Following a public outcry – the Bangladesh International Centre said it received hundreds of complaints about her first remarks – a second letter read: “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.”
Community leaders at the Tatham Street centre, which represents the city’s estimated 7,000 Bangladeshi residents, are due to discuss her response and the governors’ statement on November 5.
Centre manager Abu Shama, who has one child at the school, said after receiving the first letter: “We are very saddened by the language and tone in the letter, which we find distasteful.
"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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