Jewish girl's King David place goes to non-Jew

EXCLUSIVE: Liverpool school forced to reject 10-year-old girl under new admission rules

By Jonathan Kalmus, June 11, 2010
Plea rejected: Kayleigh Chapple and her mother Dawn were devastated by the ruling

Plea rejected: Kayleigh Chapple and her mother Dawn were devastated by the ruling

A Jewish girl has been denied a place at King David High School in Liverpool because her family could not meet the new admissions criteria to prove her level of religious practice. The place went to a non-Jewish girl.

The Orthodox school was forced to reject a place for Kayleigh Chapple this September, even though her mother, uncle and aunt were former pupils.

Her family could not prove their synagogue attendance or the level of Jewish education now required to gain such a place, following the Court of Appeal's landmark ruling against JFS last July. It is the first case to give substance to fears that the JFS ruling would effectively exclude Jewish children from non-observant homes.

Kayleigh's mother, Dawn Chapple, who lives with a non-Jewish husband in Huyton, outside Liverpool's Jewish community, said her daughter was "absolutely devastated...She loves the Jewish lessons she's been having, she loves going to shul. She has even asked about having a batmitzvah."

The new admission criteria ask for proof of synagogue attendances 12 months before the pupil's application.The rules further stipulate proof of formal Jewish education.

Last week, Liverpool City Council's Independent Education Appeal Panel rejected Mrs Chapple's plea to consider her documented synagogue attendance in 2007 and 2008 and five months of Jewish tutoring which she has arranged since January.

King David, an Orthodox Jewish school which also accepts non-Jewish children, confirmed that Kayleigh is the only Jewish applicant to be refused a place among just nine Jewish children in its September intake of 90 this year.

Last year Kayleigh applied to King David under the previously acceptable category as a halachically recognised Jew. Under King David's original admissions policy, proof of Kayleigh's Jewish descent would have given her a priority place.

But in its JFS ruling last year, the Court of Appeal ordered Jewish schools to implement practice-based admission policies. Mrs Chapple claims that it made it "impossible" to gain the evidence she required after King David had informed her about the admission changes in December, long after the High Holy Days, when attendance at synagogue would have given Kayleigh points under the new system. The school has admitted that she received notice so late because she was the only applicant from a non-Jewish primary school.

Mrs Chapple says the JFS ruling has denied her daughter a place - "All because that guy [who challenged the JFS admissions policy] married a non-Jewish woman who converted Reform. But I'm 100 per cent an Orthodox Jew. He's won a place for his son, that my daughter can't have."

She added: "I think it's disgusting that non-Jewish children have more rights on our own school more than a Jewish child. "

Mrs Chapple is now seeking legal advice on the decision to rule against Kayleigh. She said: "I want her to have a Jewish education. I've paid £500 for her to learn about Judaism, proper lessons with a teacher. My daughter's already been called a Jew-bag and been racially abused in her local school twice, because I've never hidden the fact that she's Jewish."

King David head Brigid Smith, who is a governor and sits on the school's admissions panel, said King David could only follow the criteria it had been advised to accept following the JFS Appeal Court ruling, while any leeway in applying these new rules rested with the local authority appeals' committee.

The chair of King David governors, Max Steinberg, said the school had "to conduct itself properly. Otherwise we get into all sorts of questions and issues. If there are criteria that are not applied then you can see that we would be open to criticism of that."

But the school recognised its new rules could exclude Jewish children.

Lauren Lesin-Davis, who chairs the education group that decides King David's admission policy, said work had already begun on revamping its policy before the Chapple case came to light. She revealed that its 2011 admission criteria, which have been passed by its governors, will allow for Jewish volunteering and cultural activities to earn points in their religious practice test.

She said: "I don't want to miss out on having Jewish people who can't attend the school just because they don't go to shul 'X' times a year."

Mrs Chapple is also angry with Liverpool's synagogues which she says did not respond to her enquiries to join them.

But Rabbi Lionel Cofnas, senior minister at Childwall Synagogue, said that while Orthodox synagogues in Liverpool would not allow her membership because she married out, he would make her feel welcome at synagogue services.

He said: "Please let her ring me and I would try to sort this out for her. She can't be a member, that's one thing, but she is quite entitle to come to shul."

Rabbi Cofnas suggested Mrs Chapple's schools admissions problem is related primarily to the introduction of a practice-based test for pupil entry.

He said: "I think the truth of the matter is that she has a genuine criticism of the rules. The rules that have been employed, instead of rules we would have wished, the tradition method of entry, have proved to be problematic."

Last updated: 10:10am, June 11 2010