Girl banned from school bus because she is not baptised
From Ekklesia - 06/09/06
A girl has been barred from taking an official bus to her Church of England school because she has not been baptised. The move brings a new dimension to an ongoing controversial debate about transport to faith based schools, as well as access to them. Many church school already face the accusation that they discriminate unfairly in their admissions policies in favour of children of parents who attend the churches linked to them.
In the latest case Sydnie Jai from Hatfield, Hertfordshire, was hoping to attend Townsend School in St Albans, travelling by bus as her two brothers had done for some years. But Hertfordshire County Council said she must use public transport because she had not been baptised, reports the Evening Standard. A statement from the council said: "We provide free transport to all children attending their nearest maintained faith school if they have a place there in line with their parents' beliefs. This applies for children aged eight or over where the family lives more than three miles away. To qualify for free transport to a Church of England school the child must be baptised or have a parent on the parish electoral roll. We think it quite reasonable when offering transport to faith schools that parents show that the child is of that faith."
Sydnie's mother Frances Wood told London's Evening Standard newspaper she was furious at the council's inflexible attitude. "I can't believe they've stopped Sydnie going to school on the bus," she said. "It's totally outrageous." The council statement added: "If the family do not wish to travel on public transport, there would be the opportunity to attend a local school in Hatfield. Officers are in the process of contacting the family to discuss what support might be available to Sydnie."
In 2004 there was a similar case involving Laura Abbott, who was ineligible for free transport because she did not want to attend a faith-based school, opting instead for a secular school. The British Humanist Association considers that many current LEA school transport policies contravene the Human Rights Act.
In a 2003 survey of Local Education Authorities in England and Wales, they found that 33% of responding LEAs provided help for pupils going to a faith-based school chosen in preference to a nearer community school on grounds of religion – but not to pupils going to an equally distant community school in preference to a nearer faith-based one on grounds of belief. Another 1 in 3 LEAs acknowledged other forms of discrimination such as giving preferential treatment to religious believers or sometimes applying different rules to different belief groups. It has been their contention that school transport policies should treat religious and non-religious families even-handedly.