Primary school forced to change ‘cow’s milk or water’ rule after vegan dad fights discriminatory policy

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» Primary school forced to change ‘cow’s milk or water’ rule after vegan dad fights discriminatory policy

A Primary School in Solihull has U-turned on school policy of only offering cow’s milk or water after a vegan dad, whose 5-year-old was banned from bringing soya milk into school, turned to The Vegan Society to help fight his case.

In September 2020, as his daughter Sofia moved from Nursery to Reception at Cranmore Infant School in Solihull, Paul Roberts was told she could only have cow’s milk as part of the school’s milk scheme. This was despite Sofia never having tried dairy milk and following a year of bringing her own soya milk into the school’s on-site nursery without issue.

Desperate to let Sofia enjoy milk time with her classmates, Paul questioned staff on why she, along with another pupil with a dairy allergy, could not enjoy a plant-based alternative instead. After receiving a verbal rejection, Paul sent an email outlining his concerns via the school’s complaints procedure to Headteacher, Rebecca Ward, which was also turned down.  Following this, Paul went to the school’s governing body which again failed to uphold his complaint, stating it found no evidence of discrimination.

The stress of the case began to weigh on forty-three-year-old Paul, who started to suffer with insomnia and anxiety as Sofia continued to miss out. He turned to Facebook to find other vegan parents and was advised by Laura Chepner of Primary Veducation to contact Dr Jeanette Rowley, Vegan Rights Advocate and Chair of the International Rights Network at The Vegan Society, who supports and advocates for individual vegans in need of assistance.

Following initial discussions with Jeanette, Paul submitted a second complaint to Mrs Ward which was also rejected. This was followed by a comprehensive letter outlining the legalities of the situation to the school’s governing body. It responded stating that there was no evidence to show Sofia had suffered discrimination but ruled in Paul’s favour – permitting Sofia to have soya milk in school as an alternative to cow’s milk. In addition, following the detailed legal arguments presented to the panel, the governing body recommended that the school’s water-only policy must be reviewed and that it should look into including a dairy-free alternative to the milk provided under the Cool Milk scheme. It also stated it will consider whether the Cool Milk marketing narrative is appropriate to be included within school policy and related literature.

After winning the case, Paul Roberts said: “Getting in touch with The Vegan Society and working closely with Jeanette was the best thing we ever did. Not only does my Sofia get to have her soya milk but the school are even subsidising it too. Jeanette was amazing, she was always so professional and extremely supportive at every step.”

“Both myself and my wife, and of course Sofia, are forever grateful for the time and effort she put into this complaint. While for me it was a hugely important issue, I never thought The Vegan Society could help on such a small and personal level. It’s been a really emotionally draining nine months, but I just hope others can benefit from our fight and parents and children in the school understand that they too have a freedom of choice.”

Commenting on the case, Dr Rowley said: “I am delighted with the outcome of Mr Roberts’ long running case. Sofia, and other pupils, can now drink a plant-based alternative to cow’s milk while at school, and, in the context of inclusion, the school will now examine the way it promotes cow’s milk. All schools should understand their duties under the Equality Act 2010, and, particularly, that the Public Sector Equality Duty requires schools to consider the negative impact of polices on different groups of people and do everything reasonably possible to remove the disadvantages vegans face.”

“They should also be aware of their human rights obligations, particularly to ensure they do not interfere with the rights of individuals to adopt veganism as a belief of choice, to respect the right of parents to raise their children according to their vegan moral values, and their duty to ensure a critical, objective, and plural educational environment. The Vegan Society will always do what it can to help vegans, or those transitioning to or considering veganism. I’m delighted that we were able to secure for Paul and Sofia the outcomes they are entitled to.”

For information and support contact our Know Your Rights service on 07482 363922 or email knowyourrights[at]vegansociety[dot]com.

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