Sikh girl denied free school travel

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BBC, Sep. 10, 2002
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2246924.stm

A North East council wants the government to act after being forced to deny a Sikh schoolgirl free transport because she is the “wrong” religion.

Mandeep Ladhar, 13, has been told she does not qualify for a free bus pass to her Roman Catholic high school in Bedlington, Northumberland.

Mandeep’s family, from Ashington, and the Racial Equality Commission say they are furious at the authority’s actions.

But Northumberland County Council has described the case as a “difficult religious issue” and is seeking advice from its legal department and the Department for Education.

Pupils whose parents have chosen to send them to St Benet Biscop RC High School in Bedlington, Northumberland, get free transport if their families are practising Catholics.

Ged Thomas, from Northumberland County Council, said: “Mandeep failed to qualify for free transport on two counts as she is not attending her nearest high school and is not a Roman Catholic.”

Mandeep’s parents, Gurmit and Jaswinder Ladhar, wanted their daughter to be educated at an establishment with strong religious principles.

And although Mandeep first enrolled at Ashington’s St Benedict’s Roman Catholic Middle School, she was later accepted at St Benet Biscop.

Legal advice
The school is five miles from her home.

Because the distance is greater than three miles, and the family chose the school, rather than opting for one in their catchment area, they have been told their daughter does not qualify for free transport.

A county council spokesman said the authority had to provide free transport for high school pupils living more than three miles from their school.

But he said that if parents chose to send their children outside their catchment area, then there was no obligation on the authority.

A spokesman for the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) said: “This has raised the thorny issue of how religious, racial and human rights are being appraised.”

The Ladhar family is now seeking legal advice on Northumberland County Council’s ruling.

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