Muslim woman takes legal action against UK school over veil ban

Published: July 21, 2017
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PHOTO: THEGUARDIAN

PHOTO: THEGUARDIAN

A Muslim mother has taken legal action against her daughter’s school after being told she cannot not wear a veil within the premises.

Rachida Serroukh, 37, a mother of three daughters has started a discrimination case against Holland Park school of London after she was told that she cannot wear a veil.

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When she attended an evening for parents of new pupils at the school on June 13, she was shocked to be challenged over her decision to wear a face veil, The Guardian reported.

Serroukh – a qualified childcare assistant who plans to return to work when her daughter is settled in school – was approached by a member of staff who asked to speak to her. She was taken into a room and told it was the school’s policy not to allow face veils on school premises. “I was already feeling uncomfortable because I had to leave my daughter standing on her own,” said Serroukh. “As the teacher was female, I lifted my veil when we were talking together in the room.”

She had already been surprised, she added, that at the welcome event for about 200 parents, including five or six who were identifiably Muslim, the head teacher said in his speech that the school was secular and did not offer prayer rooms although it showed video footage of the school choir singing in a church.

Later, she was challenged over her decision to wear the veil. At first Serroukh thought that the teacher who raised the veil issue had misunderstood and thought her daughter would be attending school in a face veil. “I explained clearly that my daughter wears a headscarf and would not be coming to school in a face veil. Then I realised she was talking about me not my daughter.”

Serroukh asked several times to see the school policy banning visitors from wearing a face veil, as she was aware that a friend who also wore a similar veil had been attending school events for five years without encountering any problems.

“I had had no problem from security at the school gate when I entered the school and nobody there had mentioned a policy. I always lift my veil and show my photo ID when required to do so for security purposes,” she said. “I didn’t want to challenge the teacher until I had seen the policy.”

Serroukh said the teacher then asked her to leave the school through the back exit, but she refused, explaining she needed to collect her daughter and would be leaving through the same door she had arrived which was the front entrance. “I was very shaken and was in a state of shock about what had happened,” she said. “I had never experienced anything like this before. I have experienced name calling in the street from strangers about my veil but nothing like this had ever happened before. When I got home, I just broke down.”

She wrote to the school for clarification on this whole issue. Guidance from the Department for Education states that it is up to individual schools to decide about whether staff and pupils can wear face veils, but it says nothing about parents and other visitors.

“It has not been necessary to date for the school to have this requirement stated in written policy,” wrote Wilson. “Given the concerns you have raised, we are now considering a written amendment to our health and safety policy to include this specific requirement and will follow the normal protocol of seeking the approval of the governing body.”

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Replying on July 12, Serroukh wrote, “How are you able to justify banning the face veil for all which come onto school grounds? I had shown my face prior to coming onto school grounds therefore security cannot have been a cause for concern.”

The incident left Serroukh feeling upset and excluded from her own community, she said, “I feel like I don’t belong here even though I live across the road and used to attend the school.”

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