TIM WILLIAMS EDUCATION REPORTER The Advertiser May 10, 2015

FOR years it was the pride of the Muslim community, a school that reached out to its neighbours and helped promote cultural understanding across Adelaide.

Migrant students from across the globe were taught to be proudly Australian, regularly singing the national anthem and their own school song. But they don’t sing any more.

A deep rift between parents and management threatens the future of the Islamic College of South Australia.

Relations have soured to the point where hundreds of parents kept their children at home on Friday in protest against the school’s board and they say they will organise more boycott days until the board resigns.

The warning signs began three years ago when principal Julia Abdelale was sacked, beginning a revolving door of school leaders who, parents say, are at the mercy of the board.

Many experienced teachers have been shown the door and replaced with younger ones, who earn less and are considered less likely to challenge board decisions, such as the controversial edict that all female staff wear headscarves.

Parents say educational standards are plummeting and a modest music program has been scrapped. They are also appalled at plans for a mosque and more classrooms on a school site that lacks playspace.

This year, a small band of parents began organising small public rallies but it was the sacking of beloved teacher and imam Brother Khalid Yousef last month and the expulsion of senior students for supporting him, that sent the school community into a frenzy of protest.

The prime target is chairman, Farouk Khan, who is constantly present at the school.

A long-serving teacher, who was fired without warning on the last day of school in 2013, said she feared for the education of the school’s “amazing” multilingual children.

“It’s a very radical board, very strict, almost like being their own Islam; it’s not like a (moderate) Australian Islam,” she said.

“I can remember how hard it was (dealing with board) and how frustrating they were. It was difficult for Australian women who are used to being treated a bit more equally.”

The teacher said the school used to have choirs performing in the local community but the demise of the music program was symbolic of a change to a stricter form of Islam.

“They don’t sing the national anthem anymore (and) we used to sing it every week,’’ she said.

“They have a piano hidden in the school because it’s ‘evil’.”

She said her dismissal was typical of the board’s behaviour, which has recently began marching staff off school grounds under the watch of security guards.

“I never got a chance to say goodbye to the parents and kids and the other teachers,” she said.

“Then to my dismay, I heard that the next year the staff were told I chose to leave.

“They are getting rid of a lot of teachers because they are the highest paid teachers.

“You must have a balance of experienced and new teachers so they can learn from the older teachers.”

The Independent Education Union says the college causes more industrial issues than any other.

“They are ripe for regime change because I would like to deal with some people who respect normal industrial process … but they are a law unto themselves,” state secretary Glen Seidel said.

“It is really encouraging to see the community trying to sort out the quality of the management of the school.

“The union has had quite a lot of matters before the courts and commissions to try to keep the school on the right path but true change has to come from the community.”

The roadblock parents face is that they have no say in the makeup of the board, which is appointed by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

Souraya Serhan, the mother of Rami, 15, one of two boys expelled for protesting, vowed to continue campaigning until the board stepped down, despite its conditional offer for her son to return. She said it was pleasing that “half of the school was absent” on Friday.

Mr Khan did not respond yesterday.


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