Antwerp Orthodox school renounces document banning teaching evolution, sex ed

Benoth Jerusalem girls’ high school says employee wrong to hand teachers instructions not to speak to students about politics, racism after state funds risked

An ultra-Orthodox father walks his children to Antwerp's Jesode Hatorah school. (illustrative photo: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)
An ultra-Orthodox father walks his children to Antwerp's Jesode Hatorah school. (illustrative photo: Cnaan Liphshiz/JTA)

An ultra-Orthodox school for girls in Antwerp has distanced itself from a document handed out by an employee of the high school instructing teachers not to speak with students about sex and evolution.

The Gazet van Antwerpen daily reported Monday on the document titled “general instructions,” prompting the Flemish education minister, Hilde Crevits, to launch an investigation into the Benoth Jerusalem school.

In 2012, Benoth Jerusalem was flagged as “lacking” in an Education Ministry inspection for failing to teach evolution and sexual education, which put into question its continuing eligibility for government subsidies. Benoth Jerusalem is a public school funded by the Flemish Education Ministry.

The Flemish Region is one of three states that comprises Belgium and has its capital in Antwerp. In addition to the curriculum required by the state, which includes teaching reproduction, evolution and history, it offers Jewish studies taught by ultra-Orthodox teachers. There is a haredi principal, but non-Jewish teachers who are ministry employees teach the mandatory curriculum subjects.

Under “teaching material,” the document, which appears to be intended for the non-Jewish teachers, reads: “Pupils are not to be talked to about: Sex, reproduction, politics, religion, racism, personal issues.”

In a statement, Benoth Jerusalem said the document in question is “against everything the school stands for” and is “not an official school document.” An employee of the school did print the document, but the employee has been told that the document “clashes with the school’s values,” the statement read.

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