Six-year-old left devastated over racism lessons at Hailsham school

A picture from the book 'I am Rosa Parks' by Brad Meltzer, which was taught to Year One pupils at Burfield Academy
A picture from the book 'I am Rosa Parks' by Brad Meltzer, which was taught to Year One pupils at Burfield Academy

A mother says her six-year-old son’s mental health has plummeted since learning about racism at a Hailsham school.

Abbie Saunders, whose son is the only mixed race child in his class at Burfield Academy, says in-depth lessons about Rosa Parks are not appropriate for five and six year-olds.

A picture from the book 'I am Rosa Parks' by Brad Meltzer, which was taught to Year One pupils at Burfield Academy

A picture from the book 'I am Rosa Parks' by Brad Meltzer, which was taught to Year One pupils at Burfield Academy

She said, “It’s majorly affected my son. He came out of class crying. He’s asked if he has to get off the bus if a white person gets on. Then when we were at a water fountain he said ‘am I allowed to drink this?’

“He used to be such a confident boy, he’d be the first one on the dance floor at parties, making friends everywhere he goes, such a happy boy.

“Now he will not leave my side. He’s started hating school. He’s been not sleeping. I am very concerned about his wellbeing and mental health after being taught about racism at such a young age.”

She said her son has completely lost his confidence, feels people and other children don’t like him because of his skin colour, and even said he wishes he had white skin like her.

Ms Saunders, of Hellingly, said she was not made aware this subject would be taught, and when she initially complained to the school was also not told it was on the syllabus for the whole term.

She said, “Why did they not ask our permission? I’m protecting my child’s innocence. Why have you got the right to make him feel different? It’s a nightmare.

“I agree children should learn everyone’s different and we should all treat each other the same, but there’s more age appropriate ways to do that.”

The text the lessons focus on is called ‘I am Rosa Parks’, by Brad Meltzer. It shows cartoon pictures of the famous civil rights figure facing racism.

It includes quotes like “You know what made her madder, I was black and her son was white” and “I’LL HAVE YOU PUT IN JAIL. YOU’LL NEVER GET OUT AGAIN!”

Rosa Parks was an American civil rights activist who changed history by refusing to give up her seat to a white person in 1955. Her peaceful protest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott which became a significant moment in the fight against racism and segregation in the US.

Ms Saunders says her son brought home a piece of paper asking how he feels, to which he wrote ‘I’m sad always’. Since her complaint, she says the Year One pupil has been removed from the lesson and left to sit in the library by himself – making him feel more “segregated”.

The mother feels the school, in Oaklands Way, is not taking her concerns seriously and has not done enough to make sure her son is alright. She says other parents have also complained about the topic.

‘We are heartbroken and angry’

The child’s grandmother, Nicola Ring, said, “My grandson has gone from a very happy, confident little boy into an anxious, tearful, worried one.

“As a family we are all angry and heartbroken at his loss of innocence. Everyone that we have spoken to on this matter is in disbelief. All this at a time when mental health in young children is being highlighted on social media and television.

“We are obviously concerned for his welfare and are seeking to get a doctor’s appointment for him. We agree this topic is important but we strongly disagree that Rosa Parks is age appropriate.”

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A spokesperson for Burfield Academy, which is part of the STEP Academy Trust, said, “I am Rosa Parks by Brad Meltzer is a book for young readers in the ‘Ordinary People Change the World’ series. It introduces a historical figure involved in a significant historical event and touches on themes of equality and social inclusivity in a sensitive and age-appropriate manner.

“Because of its historical links and inclusive themes, it has been selected as an appropriate curriculum text in Year One for Burfield Academy. The teaching of the text and the themes it explores are approached with sensitivity and care by teachers.

“The Academy is aware of one parent’s concerns regarding this text. This is being dealt with under the Academy’s complaints policy.”