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UK could require teachers to report ‘terrorist’ toddlers

A British proposal would hold educators responsible for the violent ideology of their students – preschoolers included

Every educator in the United Kingdom — including teachers of preschool children — would be required to monitor students to prevent them “being drawn into terrorism” if a British Home Office proposal becomes law.

The suggestion, which is part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill currently before the U.K. parliament, has sparked a firestorm of outrage — and has sent the satirical #ToddlerTerror trending on Twitter — since it was reported over the weekend by The Telegraph.

The bill would call on school administrators to “make sure that staff have training that gives them the knowledge and confidence to identify children at risk of being drawn into terrorism and challenge extremist ideas which can be used to legitimize terrorism and are shared by terrorist groups.”

“They should know where and how to refer children and young people for further help,” the document said.

It is the latest and most significant step in the U.K.’s domestic counterterrorism campaign, which has escalated in response to the alarming rate of British youth who are taking up arms abroad with radicalized groups like the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

But for moderates in the British government, not to mention civil rights advocates, deputizing teachers to snoop on their students is a bridge too far.

“It is hard to see how this can be implemented. It is unworkable,” David Davis, a Conservative MP and his party’s former Home Office spokesman, told The Telegraph newspaper. “Are [teachers] supposed to report some toddler who comes in praising a preacher deemed to be extreme? I don’t think so.”

The Home Office declined to provide further details on the bill to Al Jazeera, pending potential alterations as it is mulled in parliament this week.

But officials familiar with the proposal have said teachers would be instructed to report threatening speech, including anti-Semitism or other expressions of religious hatred.

While educators are already encouraged to monitor students for signs of violence or psychological harm at home, as well as report threats of violence made in the classroom, the Home Office wants to formalize that responsibility on a statutory basis. That could mean teachers would face punishment should they fail to report signs of radicalization, in the event that a student were to carry out some sort of criminal attack.

"We are not expecting teachers and nursery workers to carry out unnecessary intrusion into family life, but we do expect them to take action when they observe behavior of concern. It is important that children are taught fundamental British values in an age-appropriate way,” a government spokesperson told The Daily Mail.

A representative of the National Association of Head Teachers told The Telegraph that it would be “uneasy” with its members’ new responsibilities under the bill and echoed what civil rights advocates have said: Spying on toddlers will only stoke the tensions and paranoia that fuel extremism in their communities.

Magnus Ranstorp, who heads a working group that is part of the European Union’s Radicalization Awareness Network, acknowledged that radicalization in British schools could indeed pose a security risk for the country. Hundreds of British citizens have traveled to countries like Syria to take up arms with ISIL, and there are fears they could return and plot attacks against their home country.

But while teachers may have a role to play in identifying potentially violent youth, Ranstorp did not believe the Home Office was going about this the right way.

“It is already a statutory requirement for teachers to safeguard children’s welfare, so it seems more destructive than constructive to move counterradicalization efforts into day-care centers,” Ranstorp said.

“One of the principles of our network is that it is important not to implement measures that will create more problems than they will solve. This is an area where some proposals are outside of what is sensible.”

British civil rights group agreed. “The government should focus on projects to support vulnerable young people. Instead they’re playing straight into the terrorists’ hands by rushing through a bill that undermines our democratic principles and turns us into a nation of suspects,” Isabella Sankey, policy director at Liberty, told The Telegraph.

“Turning our teachers and child minders into an army of involuntary spies will not stop the terrorist threat.”

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