Tens of thousands sign petition backing teacher amid Prophet Muhammad cartoon row

27 March 2021, 19:08 | Updated: 27 March 2021, 21:55

Protests outside Batley Grammar School earlier this week
Protests outside Batley Grammar School earlier this week. Picture: PA

By Patrick Grafton-Green

More than 44,000 people have signed a petition backing the Batley Grammar School teacher who showed an "inappropriate" cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad.

The staff member, who showed pupils the image in a religious studies lesson, was suspended amid protests outside the West Yorkshire school.

The online petition, set up by a user called "A BGS student", states the teacher "was trying to educate students about racism and blasphemy".

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However, it is not clear whether it was set up by a student of the school.

It adds: "He warned the students before showing the images and he had the intent to educate them.

"He does not deserve such large repercussions.

"He is not racist and did not support the Islamophobic cartoons in any manner."

Protesters first gathered outside the school on Thursday and there was a further demonstration on Friday.

A protester speaking "on behalf of the Muslim community" read out a statement outside of the school on Friday, in which he said: "The teachers have breached the position of trust and failed their duty of safeguarding, and this issue must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

"We do not accept that the school has taken this issue seriously, given that it's taken them four days to merely suspend only one of the teachers involved."

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick told LBC on Friday he was “deeply troubled” by reports the teacher was in hiding.

"This is a country based on free speech, and teachers should be able to tackle difficult and controversial issues in the classroom and issues shouldn't be censored," he said.

"And secondly, and most importantly, it is absolutely unacceptable for teachers and staff in our schools to be threatened or intimidated.”

He said the Department for Education is working with the school and local council as it investigates the incident.

On Thursday, the school "unequivocally" apologised for showing "totally inappropriate" material to children, and said a member of staff was suspended pending an investigation.