PARENTS: ‘THEY DIDN’T LIKE HOW I LOOKED’
SOME parents believe that Jewish schools are asking overintrusive questions in their attempts to establish applicants’ religious credentials.
One parent who applied for a place for her child at the nursery of the Independent Jewish Day School in North-West London last year was taken back by an admissions questionnaire asking a detailed question about family purity.
In another case, a mother whose daughter was refused a place at the Beis Yaakov High School for Girls in Salford said that one reason given was that her husband wears jeans to synagogue on weekday mornings.
The mother of the IJDS applicant told the JC that she had to fill in a detailed form which included the question of which rabbi she consulted over taharat misphacha — the laws to do with menstruation and family purity.
Other questions asked parents to describe their standards of tzniut, modesty, how they manage kashrut and Shabbat observance on holiday, and in what circumstances they might eat in a non-kosher restaurant.
The mother — who wished to remain anonymous, but described her family as “modern Orthodox” — said: “It took me a long time to fill out. It took a lot of thought. Some people were so appalled, they didn’t send an application to the school.”
The mother whose daughter was denied a place at Beis Yaakov in 2006 said that she and her husband had sought an explanation from the governors after receiving the rejection letter. Also wishing to preserve her anonymity, she said the family was fully kosher and Shabbat-observant.
“They didn’t think we were the right type for the school,” she said. “At meetings, we were told by various different governors what they thought of us. One said he didn’t like the way I looked. They didn’t approve because my husband wore jeans to shul on weekdays.”
She claimed that in a meeting with the governors, she and her husband had been subjected to “invasive, intrusive” questions and in one instance, she was told “pick yourself up off the floor”.
She said the family had offered to get rid of its television and had asked for a list of any additional religious requirements with which the school wanted them to comply. “I object to the fact that I did not get a list of specifics. It was left to their discretion,” she said.
Neither the Independent Jewish Day School nor Beis Yaakov, Salford, were able to find a spokesman available for comment.
Under the government’s schools admissions code, state-aided faith schools may expect certain standards of religious observance of prospective pupils, but these must be set by the school’s religious authority — a local synagogue or the Office of the Chief Rabbi, for example — and not directly by the school itself.
A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that any guidance from religious authorities must be consistent with the government’s code, which requires entry policies to be clear, objective and fair.
Already, the government’s recent intervention on schools admissions has led to some schools amending their application forms.
For example, the Progressive Akiva School in Finchley, North London, previously asked prospective parents whether they supported the ethos of the school.
In a letter to governors and parents, Akiva deputy chairman Clive Sheldon said it was “debatable” whether such a question was in contravention of the admissions code.
But the question has been removed and the revised forms simply ask parents about their synagogue membership over the past five years.