District announces new rule barring “students who follow a religion.”
August 13 :– A school in central Vietnam has denied entry to a fifth-grade boy because he is Christian, according to a letter from an elementary school principal to the ethnic minority child’s parents.
Tran Van Ha, principal of Ka Dang Public Elementary School in Quang Nam province, wrote to Phong Hong Phong’s parents on July 2 that the Degar (Montagnard) child could not take an entrance exam because the school district had announced a new rule barring “students who follow a religion.”
“Student Phong Hong Phong meets all the requirements to take the entrance examination for the Residential High School for Ethnic Minorities of Dong Giang District,” Ha wrote to the child’s father, also named called Phong Hong Phong. “However, after this [the previously announced requirements], the Residential High School for Ethnic Minorities of Dong Giang District announced in addition that students who follow a religion will not be allowed to take the examination. And so student Phong Hong Phong does not meet the requirement to take the examination.”
A source in Vietnam that provided the letter and others to Compass said that other parents received similar correspondence. He added that, although Vietnam has shown some progress in religious freedom, “Ethic minority Christian students still meet with considerable official discrimination.”
The letter was clearly directed at Christians, he said. Protestants make up an estimated one half of the 1 million Degar people of Vietnam’s Central Highlands, and another 200,000 are estimated to be Catholic. The Katu tribe in this region of Quang Nam province reportedly practiced human sacrifice until the 1950s, and several thousand Katu are now Christians.
While 80 percent of Vietnam’s population adheres to no religion, about 9.3 are Buddhist, according to the CIA World Factbook, with only 6.7 percent Catholic and .5 percent Protestant.
According to the principal’s letter, a copy of which was obtained by Compass, the apparently embarrassed Ha asks the parents for their “understanding and sympathy,” saying that the decision was outside of his control.
“It is not the Ka Dang Public Elementary School that is discriminating against students who follow a religion, but this is the policy of the Residential High School for Ethnic Minorities of Dong Giang District,” he writes.
Vietnam has been under pressure to improve the lot of its often poor ethnic minorities in the western and northern mountainous regions. With the generous foreign aid it receives, Vietnam has established a number of residential high schools for ethnic minority students in the Western Highlands.
Degar Christian leaders have long complained that children of Christians are discriminated against and not allowed entrance into the residential schools. Considered highly desirable, the schools offer the only opportunity for secondary education for many students, as they provide funding for tuition and room and board for poor students.
The school year was about to start, said the Christian source, and many Christians students did not know how they would further their education. “Does being a Christian believer require our children to remain ignorant?” he asked.
Christian leaders in Vietnam point to the letter as evidence that Vietnam still operates by “actual polices” that contradict those promulgated for public and foreign consumption.
Discrimination based on religion is supposedly strictly forbidden in Vietnam’s constitution and religious regulations. While it is rare for clear documentation illustrating the contradiction between positive public pronouncements and actual discrimination to become public, there are still frequent reports of systematic discrimination against ethnic minority Christians.
Ironically, some Christian leaders in Vietnam expressed sympathy for Ha. One said, “Whether Principal Ha’s written explanation of discrimination was done out of ignorance about how this news could travel or was calculated, he will surely be in big trouble.”
On June 13, Ha had published a bulletin for his fifth-grade students spelling out stringent requirements to take the entrance exam. The students had one week, until June 21, to complete the requirements.
Phong had fulfilled all written requirements and was denied permission to take the exam. When his father complained, he received the letter of explanation from Ha.
“I hope that you parents will encourage your child to complete his studies even though he is not allowed to study in the residential school,” Ha writes. “Our Ka Dang Public Elementary School promises to create every favorable condition so that your child will progress in his education and training.”
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