Watch: 'Disturbing' to see protest over Prophet Mohammed cartoon
A school where a teacher showed pupils a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammad turned pupils away on Friday as angry protests continued outside its gates.
The teacher was suspended from Batley Grammar School in West Yorkshire after reportedly showing pupils a caricature mocking the Muslim prophet Mohammad believed to be one previously published by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which has been subjected to attacks over a number of controversial images.
The teacher is now believed to be in hiding after receiving death threats.
Batley Grammar has apologised "unequivocally" for the incident and said the teacher had been suspended, while the Department for Education branded the protests, which they said included "threats" and "intimidation" outside the school "completely unacceptable".
On Friday, a message to parents reportedly said the school was switching to remote learning.
A petition online urging the school to keep the teacher has received over 3,000 signatures in less than 24 hours.
The poster of the petition said the reglious studies teacher "was trying to educate students about racism and blasphemy" and said he is not racist does not deserve such large repercussions.
They claimed the situation had "got out of hands" and the protests outside the school were not peaceful.
They said: "Join with us and make a statement before this turns into a repeat of what happened to the teacher in France when he showed the same pictures."
Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said suggestions the teacher was in hiding were “very disturbing”, telling Sky News: "I don’t know precisely what a teacher did in the classroom.
"We know that the school is looking into the matter and investigating, and that is absolutely right – the Department for Education (DfE) is liaising with the school and the council.
"What I can say is there has to be an appropriate balance – we have to ensure there is free speech, that teachers can teach uninhabited but that has to be done in a respectful and tolerant way and that’s a balance to be struck by teaching professionals and the schools concerned.
"What I would also add is that I was disturbed to see scenes of people protesting outside the school – that is not right.
"We shouldn’t have teachers, members of staff of schools feeling intimidated, and the reports that a teacher may even be in hiding is very disturbing. That is not a road we want to go down in this country, so I would strongly urge people who are concerned about this issue not to do that."
A DfE spokeswoman said: “It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge.
“However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions are completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.
“Schools are free to include a full range of issues, ideas and materials in their curriculum, including where they are challenging or controversial, subject to their obligations to ensure political balance.
“They must balance this with the need to promote respect and tolerance between people of different faiths and beliefs, including in deciding which materials to use in the classroom.”
The Department for Education's response to the protests has been criticised by the Manchester-based Ramadhan Foundation, who said it would 'amplify divisions'.
Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the organisation, said the community rejected any violence or threat of violence, and said the incident "will now be hijacked by those who have an interest in perpetuating an image of Muslims".
He said: "It is alarming that the Department for Education chose to amplify those divisions by attacking the parents and pupils rather than looking how we can come together to have a respectful discussion and seek an end to this issue.
"There is still time for calmer heads amongst the department and we urge them to seek language that brings us together and address the issue without deflecting.
"The education sector has a duty to protect the needs of all pupils and we are heartened that the school leaders recognise the pain and suffering caused by this incident."
On Thursday and Friday police officers could be seen guarding the school's front gate and patrolling inside its premises.
One mum at the protest on Thursday said she had attended to "show the country Islamaphobia won't be tolerated".
The woman in her 40s, who didn't want to be named, said: "All we are asking for is respect. My child has been upset about what happened and so have I.
"I'm here this morning to show my child that this kind of Islamaphobic act won't be tolerated.
"Do not disrespect our prophet, that's the message. We need to respect all religions, including Islam.
"To me, this act seems malicious. We know the whole world is sensitive about this topic, look at what has happened in France. A religious studies teacher must be aware of these issues."
In a statement, Batley Grammar School headteacher Gary Kibble said: "The school unequivocally apologises for using a totally inappropriate resource in a recent religious studies lesson.
"The member of staff has also given their most sincere apologies.
"We have immediately withdrawn teaching on this part of the course and we are reviewing how we go forward with the support of all the communities represented in our school.
"It is important for children to learn about faiths and beliefs, but this must be done in a sensitive way.
"The member of staff has been suspended pending an independent formal investigation."