High school accused of ‘apartheid’

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A high school in Oslo was ordered by city education officials to immediately halt its practice of segregating classes by ethnic background, saying they were unaware of the practice and calling it “completely unacceptable.” One shocked law professor at the University of Oslo called the practice “apartheid.”

“This is segregation, not integration, at a Norwegian public school, it’s like apartheid,” Professor Henning Jakhelln told newspaper Dagsavisen. “If this isn’t a direct violation of education law, it’s certainly a violation of other and more overriding laws such as those against discrimination. Shocking.”

‘Didn’t know’
Torger Ødegaard of the Conservative Party, who’s in charge of education issues for the City of Oslo, claims he was shocked as well when Dagsavisen reported on Thursday about how classes at Bjerke Videregående School in Oslo’s Groruddalen district were segregated. It told the story of Gurjot Singh, who found himself in a class with no white, ethnic Norwegians when he began his first year at Bjerke this autumn. They were all grouped together in two other classes.

“A girl in our class asked why only students with foreign backgrounds were in our class, because she thought it was odd,” Singh told Dagsavisen. “The teacher agreed, but couldn’t explain why.” Singh, who was born and reared in Norway, had always gone in fully integrated classes in elementary and junior high school.

Gurjot Singh’s father got the answer a few weeks ago, at a meeting between parents and the school’s departmental leader. “She said straight out that the school had experienced ethnic Norwegian students dropping out if they weren’t grouped together in smaller classes,” Avtar Singh told Dagsavisen. “I tried to say that this was the opposite of the integration (Prime Minister Jens) Stoltenberg talks about, but was told it was necessary to keep the ‘white’ children in the school. She repeated that several times.”

Creates wider divisions
Several other students that Dagsavisen interviewed confirmed the practice and complained that it creates wider divisions between ethnic Norwegian students and those with other ethnic backgrounds. For many it was frustrating: “Oslo is a multi-cultural city and we must have mixed classes so we’re all together,” Omar Ali Shah told Dagsavisen. His elders emigrated from Pakistan but he was born and reared in Oslo, has many Norwegian friends and can’t understand why they’re suddenly separated in high school.

They won’t be any longer. Ødegaard said that city education officials have told Bjerke’s principal to change the practice immediately, and she will. “We can see that our grouping of students is wrong, and we will re-group,” Principal Gro Flaten told news bureau NTB. Her department director Hanna Norum Eliasen had confirmed that Bjerke “took the slightly difficult decision of placing 14 ethnic Norwegian students in each of two classes and none in the third class,” but she saw that as a way of reaching integration goals of retaining white ethnic Norwegians at the school. She said she thinks “it’s sad if we have brown and white schools.”

Now Flaten and Eliasen were also being told by education director Astrid Søgnen that their “solution” for maintaining diversity in the studentbody as a whole violated the law. Søgnen claimed, like Ødegaard, that she wasn’t aware of the segregation going on at Bjerke.

State Education Minister Kristin Halvorsen of the Socialist Left party (SV) wasn’t satisfied, and demanded to know how the situation at Bjerke could have gone unnoticed. “I’m asking Ødegaard for a clarification,” Halvorsen said. “We can’t be sorting people into groups.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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