Free schools shun ‘bad pupils’ and ‘black music’

State-funded, privately-run free schools may be turning away students with less aptitude, in breach of the law, with an undercover TV show revealing one school principal condemning "black music" and back-to-front baseball caps.

Free schools shun 'bad pupils' and 'black music'
File photo: Drago Prvulovic/TT

Sveriges Television's (SVT) investigative news programme Uppdrag Granskning approached some 50 free schools, trying to gain entry for two children and recording the meetings with a hidden camera. The show found that an ambitious 12-year-old girl with good grades was considerably more welcome in many of free schools, while a twelve-year-old boy with bad grades was much less welcome.

For example, the girl was immediately granted a spot at Milstens School in the upmarket Täby suburb of Stockholm. But the principal of the same school, Karin Möller David, contacted the boy’s dad to say that they simply could not accept any more students at that time.

At 27 of about 50 schools the girl with good grades was either accepted or notified that her chances were good. Only half of the schools willing to accept the girl also welcomed the boy with bad grades.

News of the report had Education Minister Jan Björklund up in arms.

 "In plain Swedish, I’m furious," Björklund told news agency TT. "It is unacceptable to sort and sift through children and youth." 

The education act (skollagen) is "crystal clear", according to the education minister. Schools that choose not to accept select students break the law. The system has no loophole that could allow it, Björklund underscored.

"But I do think that one has to understand that for all schools, both communal and free, it’s much easier to handle motivated students. Of course more effort is required to take care of students with social problems and learning disabilities," he added.

Björklund said the only way for the Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen) to unearth abuses came from parents and staff willing to report the problem.  While the education minister said he planned to ask the Inspectorate to set sail to an investigation, he said its methodology would be markedly different to that of the reporters at SVT. 

"A state agency cannot use hidden cameras or false identities. But they could follow up with actual students who apply to a school," he said.

When school principal Karin Möller David was confronted she was quick to admit her mistake.

"That was completely wrong of me. It was a bad decision and I am terribly sorry for it," she commented. 

The SVT team also took its hidden cameras to an employment interview for a music teacher position at a free school outside of Stockholm.

During the interview, the principal said that students with ADHD should be placed in a separate group in order to "protect the good students".

While the school planned on starting a new line of study in music, the principal made it clear that certain types of music were not welcome, as they could attract the wrong kind of students.

"Not that crap where they rap and go on about rape. You can’t say nigger anymore, but you know, that black music. I don’t want that in the school," the principal told the applicant. "Then we’ll get those people with baseball caps on backwards. No, they can go rap in Tensta and torch cars over there, but not here."

The principal has now resigned and sold the school licence to another operator.

Claes Nyberg, CEO of Friskolornas Riksförbund (Swedish Association of Independent Schools), said SVT’s program was too quick to jump to conclusions. He said the reporters did not follow through with the entire application process.

"There are just a few select schools that don’t give equal treatment," said Nyberg. "And if it is deliberate then of course it’s against the law and it’s unacceptable."

Nyberg said the principal who made racist and hateful comments did not belong in a Swedish school, but said he did not believe such behaviour was the norm.

"It’s a deviant example, which we all react strongly to."

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Prominent Muslim head of free school seized by security police

The chief executive of a largely Muslim free school in Gothenburg has been placed in custody by the Swedish Migration Agency on the orders of the country's Säpo security police. It follows the arrests of other Imams in recent months.

Prominent Muslim head of free school seized by security police
He was seized on Wednesday and taken to an immigration detention centre in the city, Sweden's Expressen newspaper reported on Thursday
Abdel-Nasser el Nadi, chief executive of Vetenskapsskolan, is the fifth senior member of Sweden's Muslim community to be placed in custody in less than a month. 
Three prominent imams are now in custody: Abo Raad, imam of a mosque in Gävle, Hussein Al-Jibury, imam of a mosque in Umeå, and Fekri Hamad, imam of a mosque in Västerås. Raad's son is also being held. 
Sven-Erik Berg, the school's headmaster, told The Local that he had no idea what was behind the arrest. 
“We don't know anything. I don't know anything more than you,” he said. “We are doing nothing, but the school is naturally maintaining a dialogue with the Swedish School Inspectorate and their lawyers.” 
He said it was inaccurate to describe the school as a 'Muslim school' as it has no official confessional status. 
“The chief executive is a central person among Swedish Muslims, so naturally the group of people we recruit from are often those who have a relation to Islam or Sweden's Islamic associations,” he said. “But the school does not go around telling children what they should or shouldn't believe.”
On its website the school declares: “At our school everyone is treated equally irrespective of gender, religion, ethnic background, appearance, opinions, or abilities”. 
“We are one of the best schools in Gothenburg. You just have to look at the statistics,” Berg added.  
A spokesman for Säpo told Expressen that he could not comment on any of the five cases or on whether they were in some way linked. 
But according to the Swedish news site Doku, which investigates Islamic extremists, Säpo is probing whether el Nadi has any links to a network of Islamic militants.
In an article published last October, the site alleged that El Nadi's activism was part of the reason that so many young men from Gothenburg had travelled to fight for the terror group Islamic State in Syria and Iraq. 
El-Nadi was previously the school's headmaster, and the school was in 2018 criticised by the Swedish School Inspectorate for not sufficiently promoting equality between girls and boys.
When he was interviewed by Dagens Nyheter a year ago, he asserted his loyalty to Sweden. 
“I have five children, all of whom were born in Sweden, a big family, and I want to protect this society in the same way that I have protected my children,” he said.  
El-Nadi was born in Egypt but has lived in Sweden since 1992. He has twice applied to become a Swedish citizen, in 2007 and 2011, and twice been rejected.