Know Your Rights: Palestine activism in school

(updated: 9/10/2023)

Some schools have been attempting to stop students expressing pro-Palestinian views. Here are a few tips on how to challenge your school and hopefully change policy, and how to handle a Prevent intervention or the threat of one. 

Many young people become concerned when they witness humanitarian crises.

A well-managed school empowers children to discuss their views under the safety of competent and open-minded professionals who understand the confusion created by career-minded politicians and the editorial bias of mainstream media.

The skills acquired at this crucial stage of a child’s life help create a more compassionate society, underpinned by active citizens who have the ability to identify and challenge those who abuse their powers over other human beings, animals and the environment.

Below are some responses for what to do if issues arise with your child expressing pro-Palestine views at their school.

 

1) Does my child have the right to protest in school? 

Yes. 

The right to protest is protected under human rights law.  

In Britain, everyone has the fundamental right to express their views, and this includes students.

Schools must uphold these rights. They cannot suppress the expression of political views.

We have seen this right be upheld most recently in relation to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

2) Does the school have a right to check my child’s mobile phone?

No.

Your child’s phone is their personal property and Schools or teachers can only access it in exceptional circumstances, such as where there are reasonable grounds to suspect possession of prohibited items and facilitating a criminal offence.

Schools cannot intimidate, threaten or manipulate students into sharing private information on their phones in connection to Palestinian activism, as this is unlikely to fall within the exceptions.

Your child should however be aware that their WhatsApp chats and online conversations can be reported to the school by other students, should their contents appear to fall foul of school policies. In such circumstances, school staff may want to check your child’s phone.

 

3) How can I express my concerns with the approach my school has taken in relation to Palestine?

You have every right to discuss your concerns with the school.

As a start, you can express these in writing so that there is a record of communications.

Set out politely why you feel the school’s approach may be problematic. 

Schools will rely on certain policies, so when they do, seek copies of these policies.

Review the policies and if the problem persists, lodge a formal complaint. 

This can be done after seeking legal advice and solidarity from others who may feel the same as you do. 

Be sure to keep written records, names and contact details. 

CAGE can support you in addressing such concerns at school. You can contact us on : helpline@cage.ngo / 0300 030 2243 

 

4) Is my child allowed to wear or display symbols such as a slogan or a flag?

Yes. 

 Wearing badges and slogans is a way for young people to express themselves.

This is a manifestation of their right to freedom of expression. 

However, some schools may have very strict uniform policies that may subtly undermine this right. 

Before lodging a complaint, you should check your schools’ uniform policy.

If you feel something within the policy is being used in a discriminatory way, you can raise this with the school governing body. See number 3)

 

5) What happens if the school is saying it is “not political”, and therefore my child cannot talk about Palestine? 

 

Schools should not silence political discussion. In fact recent guidance states that: “Pupils’ engagement and interest in political issues should be encouraged. Schools should not prohibit conversation about these issues, provided the political issues are age-appropriate.

The position of being impartial or “not political”, does not by law extend to the children at the school (see 1 and 2).

Many schools take political stances on other agendas. Citing these can be used to illustrate discrimination e.g. the War in Ukraine.

 

6) What if the school refers my child to Prevent?

Schools come under the public sector duty to have “due regard” for the Prevent policy. 

Despite its public relations, Prevent is harmful to communities.

This is because it criminalises Muslims, especially when they express views that challenge the government. 

If a referral to Prevent is made because of Palestine activism, the school is likely to be in breach of human rights law and the right to freedom of expression.

If you are approached by a staff member to co-operate with Prevent, remember that interaction with Prevent is generally voluntary, so you can simply refuse to engage.

 

7) How can I ensure my child is safe at school if Prevent is involved, or what if Prevent persists?

Once Prevent is mentioned, you should speak to your child about their rights and how to deal with any situation that may arise.

Firstly, you or your child only need to answer Prevent-based questions when you: 

  • are in attendance with your child
  • understand who you are speaking to and have their contact details
  • understand why the questions are being asked
  • have sought legal advice 
  • know your rights 

If your child has been approached and questioned about his or her political views or religious practice by a staff member or Prevent officer without your consent or your presence, then you could have grounds to lodge a formal complaint, especially if they are under 16.

To challenge a Prevent referral, contact CAGE for assistance.

 

8) What if the police are called to deal with my child through Prevent at school? 

You should encourage your child to exercise their right to remain silent.

You should inform your child that they are afforded special protections when questioned by the police. 

These include having an appropriate adult present, which is you, or another parent or guardian. Tell them that this is the first thing they should request. 

If you are told by the school that they have called the police to interview your child, do not panic. 

Instruct the school clearly to ensure that questioning does not occur until you are there. 

If you are able to instruct a lawyer, ensure they are physically there or are available to call during the interview, or you can call our helpline and we can assist you to prepare. 

Ask to record the interview, or take notes. 

Keep calm and be firm throughout. This will help your child to feel safe and things will be easier for them.

 

9) How can I advise my child to speak about Palestinian issues without being accused of “glorifying terrorism/terrorist activities”?

Your child’s support for Palestine does not equate to or automatically amount to support for “terrorist activities”. 

You should encourage your child to speak on their concerns and express their views in an appropriate and informed manner. They should be free to highlight the right of Palestinians to self determination and self defence – as agreed by the UN conventions. 

They should however refrain from discourse around sectarianism and be aware that certain groups (such as Hamas), are proscribed in the UK, and therefore expressing support for them is unlawful.

Should your child’s words be misunderstood or misconstrued you should communicate with the school to seek clarification. See number 3)

Contact CAGE for further advice on this.

10) What can I do if my child’s school invites a biased organisation like Solutions Not Sides (SNS) to speak on Palestine/Israel? 

  • Who is Solutions Not Sides?

Solutions Not Sides (SNS) is a charity which was recommended for work on Israel and Palestine in schools by then Education Secretary Gavin Williamson and local PREVENT teams, and have previously been invited to speak at a number of schools. 

In its own words SNS, ‘is designed to prepare students to make a positive, solutions-focused contribution to debates on Israel-Palestine.’, and until very recently has functioned as a project of the organisation OneVoice.

While purporting to be even handed and favouring no side, OneVoice’s approach tacitly favours Israel by erasing the substantial power equation between the oppressed and the oppression. Leading Palestinian organisations have stated that ‘While paying lip service to “ending the occupation,” the overriding imperative is to serve Israel’s basic interest in remaining an apartheid state… Simply put, it is the interests of the occupier that drive [OneVoice’s] mission.’ 

OneVoice’s Europe branch, based in the UK, has previously received funding from the PREVENT counter-terror program and the Building a Stronger Britain Together counter-extremism fund.

In short, neither SNS or OneVoice are a sound source of information about Israel and Palestine, but instead perpetuate an untenable status quo for the Palestinians by boxing in the discussion around the occupation.

 

  • What do I do if SNS are invited to my child’s school?

If SNS are invited to deliver a session at your child’s schools you can:

  1. Issue a formal complaint challenging their inability to be impartial. ;
  2. Direct the school to instead draw upon information and reports by internationally-recognised bodies bodies such as Adalah and Human Rights Watch on Israel’s discriminatory and apartheid practices;
  3. Withdraw your child from the session if other options have been exhausted.
  4. Seek further assistance from CAGE if required.