A Russian language school in Warrington has been forced to close after ‘aggressive’ letters were sent threatening the school if classes were to continue. The Russian Saturday School in Solnyshko, which stretches from St Wilfrid’s C of E Primary School to Grappenhall, teaches children aged three to 16 about Russian language and culture.
Yet, in light of the crisis in Ukraine, the school reportedly received anonymous threatening letters which allegedly forced the school to close. The decision was made on Friday evening (March 11) that classes would not take place the following day while the threat was investigated.
It was produced in conjunction with Warrington Borough Council for ‘safeguarding’ reasons. Yesterday (March 14) it was announced that school would resume classes on Saturday.
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Cllr Sarah Hall, Cabinet Member for Warrington Borough Council Children’s Services, said: “Late on Friday I understand that a decision has been made by St Wilfrid’s Primary School, in conjunction with Warrington officers Borough Council, to ask the Russian school, which operates from St Wilfrid’s C of E Primary School on Saturday mornings, not to continue the following day.
“The decision was made after the school received aggressive letters in which threats were implied if classes were to continue. The tone of these letters has caused serious concern in the school.
“Children of different ages attend the Solnyshko Russian Saturday School. Keeping students and teachers safe on Saturdays was the first priority of the primary school director and council officers.
“Therefore, due to security concerns, the decision has been made not to hold the classes for a week-long session while the threats are properly investigated and steps are taken to ensure the safety of children and staff The risks have now been properly assessed and measures have been taken to ensure the safety of pupils and teachers and therefore classes will resume this week.
A petition created last week by the community to reopen the school has garnered more than 2,900 signatures and counting. The organizer, Michael Belcher, wrote: “The towns in eastern Ukraine that are invaded only speak Russian, half of kyiv speaks Russian. When these families come to England, can’t they speak or learn Russian, or go to Russian schools during their time in England.
“The children who attend these schools are mostly from Latvian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and mixed families, some with an English parent, others with a Russian parent. If councils like Warrington close private education to all Russian schools, where do these families teach their culture and language. Will people who are English not be allowed to teach Russian to their children.
“Help support Ukraine but don’t punish their children and other children by closing their schools. It’s immoral [sic] as well as unethical and poorly thought out by ignorant people. My wife is Latvian and my son wants to speak Russian will we stop him thank goodness we don’t live in Warrington. Freedom of education and culture.
An update has been posted on the petition welcoming the decision to reopen the school. He said: “Please remember that this story is not just about the children of this particular school, that [is] basically taught children from Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and English/Russian, mixed Ukrainian families, mixed Asian and African families. A variety of subjects, including the Russian language, to allow children who speak Russian or not now to communicate with their loved ones.
“We do not want to see schools in our free and peace-loving country which welcomes refugees from any nation being closed because of intolerance and prejudice, bigotry or lack of simple understanding of what right and wrong. May all our peoples and children live without oppression and with freedom of expression.”
The Saturday School released a statement expressing its “deep sadness” and “condemnation” of the current events. It said: “We call on world leaders to end the fighting and ensure that Ukrainians can begin to heal from the pain that has been inflicted on them. We support and will always support the children, families and people Ukrainians, and all those who have been victims of this tragedy.
“Our school is a small, independent and unprofitable organization without operational support from the Russian or British governments. The aim of our school is to build bridges between peoples and cultures in peace and friendship. We bring together all those who are interested in Russian language and Russian language We have students from England, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Belarus and Bulgaria Our school is truly international.
“Ukraine and Russia have a long history together, many families in the school have ties and family or friends in both countries and we are all worried about them and the consequences this conflict will bring, we are all in mourning as this affects all Our school is a safe space from the current conflict where we can all come together again and share our fears, we protect our children from the horror that is happening and show them by example how to respect each other and support each other, unite friendship.
“We must also protect our staff and students so that any discrimination against our students or teachers is immediately addressed. Our hearts go out to everyone around the world who is affected in any way by this crisis. “
Cllr Sarah Hall condemned the authors of the anonymous letters, reminding Warrington residents that learning Russian culture and language is not an endorsement of Putin’s actions. She said: “It is vital that people here in Warrington, and indeed across the country, never make the mistake of confusing speaking and learning Russian, or an appreciation of Russian language and culture, with the deplorable and horrible actions of Vladimir Putin.
“We must remember that Russian is widely spoken in a number of countries adjacent to Russia, including Ukraine. I categorically condemn those who have written hateful, anonymous and aggressive letters to St Wilfrid’s regarding the Russian school’s long-standing arrangement for the rental of its premises.
“We must ensure that Warrington provides a welcoming, tolerant and compassionate approach not only to Ukrainians and Russians who call this town their home, but also to those who may come here as refugees. All Ukrainians will be agony over atrocities But we should also extend the same spirit of tolerance and solidarity to the many ordinary Russians who bravely repudiate Putin’s actions and entirely reject his war as not being waged in their name.
Andy Carter, MP for Warrington South, said: “Many of the young people learning here have families in Ukraine as well as in Russia and neighboring countries where Russian is the most common language. I don’t believe it’s fair to see children in Warrington unable to communicate with their grandparents in their own language because of Putin’s crazy actions.