Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Not in use: The school canteen has been closed while non-Muslim pupils ate in the changing room in SK Seri Pristana in Sungai Buloh.
When we arrived, the dining tables and chairs were still there at the girls changing room of SK Seri Pristana, where non-Muslim pupils had been having breakfast and lunch over the past week,
As we entered the school grounds at about 6pm yesterday, the headmaster and the head of the Parent-Teacher Association looked distressed as officers from various government departments questioned them repeatedly on why the pupils had been moved to the changing room.
They showed us the changing room which was very clean at the time.
Two tables with purple tablecloths were placed in the small space next to the shower stalls and the sinks, with benches for the pupils to sit on
The canteen, which was directly opposite the changing room, was re-opened to the pupils yesterday on the directive of the Education Ministry.
There are three shower stalls and three sinks in the room, which is right next to the girls toilet and the toilet for handicapped pupils.
According to the school officials, there are only 28 non-Muslim pupils in the school.
Headmaster Mohd Nasir Mohd Noor said the pupils, both Muslims and non-Muslims, had been using the changing room since March because there was not enough space in the canteen.
“Our enrolment increased by more than 500 pupils this year. We do not even have enough classrooms. We have an average of 49 pupils in each class now,” said the visibly worried headmaster who had to answer his cell phone every few minutes.
“I only decided to move them into that room because many were sitting on the grass or by the drain to eat because there was not enough space.”
He said the canteen had been closed over the past week due to a minor “renovation”.
Mohd Nasir brought us into the canteen to show us the newly-installed glass doors at a small corner of the canteen.
The renovation was completed over the weekend, he said.
“The canteen was supposed to have been re-opened on Monday. I did not know that it was kept closed. I was away for a meeting that day,” Mohd Nasir said.
The head of the school’s Parent-Teacher Association Hussein Mohd Ariff said that the PTA members were aware of the situation as it had been brought up at the AGM.
“As a parent, I know it was not ideal but the decision was not up to me,” he said.
The headmaster stressed that he would never discriminate against his pupils.
“As you can see, the shower room is very clean. The only reason I chose this place is because it is the closest room to the canteen.
“I did not mean any harm to the pupils,” he said, adding that he had not received any complaints from parents until yesterday.
As we spoke, parents were walking into the school to check on their children after seeing the photos and comments in the social network.
“I suspected something was wrong when another parent told me the children were eating in a changing room,” said a parent.
“I asked my daughter, who is only nine, and she told me that the place where she was eating was narrow and smelly.”