School bans Muslim mother from parents' evening for wearing veil
By Jaya Narain
Last updated at 6:53 PM on 03rd April 2009
A mother was barred from a parents' evening at her child's school because she was wearing a veil.
The mother-of-one arrived at the function wearing a full veil which covers every part of the body except the eyes.
But she was turned away on health, safety and security grounds after the headteacher said visitors' faces should be visible at all times.
The woman, who is a former pupil of the school, is furious with her treatment and says her religion should not affect her access to the Catholic school.
The incident happened in Blackburn, Lancs, which was at the centre of controversy three years ago when Jack Straw MP angered Muslim groups by suggesting women who wear veils over their face can make community relations harder.
The former foreign secretary branded the veil as a 'visible statement of separation and of difference' in 2006.
The move caused fury among Muslim groups who condemned Mr Straw and accused him of discrimination.
The latest incident is set to reignite the row over the right to wear whatever clothing the religious believer chooses.
Many Muslim women in the UK choose to wear a hijab or head scarf in the UK with only a minority of women wearing the full-length niqab veil.
The latest incident happened at Our Lady and St John Catholic Art College, in Blackburn, Lancs, last week.
The mother-of-one from Blackburn said: 'I don't like going to the school anymore because I leave crying. I can understand that people should be identified but I am just a normal person, trying to lead a normal life. Why should how I dress make a difference?'
She said: 'In September 2007, when I attended a parents' evening I got told not to go into the hall because I was wearing a veil. I explained I was willing to take the veil off in front of female teachers but not the male teachers.'
The school already had a policy which ruled that hoodies and crash helmets need to be removed before access is granted to the school but after the incident in 2007 this was amended to include full-face veils.
The 34-year-old woman added: 'This week at parents' evening I signed myself in and saw two teachers in the library as I was not allowed in the main hall. Then I was asked by a member of staff whether I was aware of the school's policy on identification.'
But the woman, who lives in the town, says the policy was not in force when she enrolled her son, nor was it included in the school prospectus.
'My son enjoys going to the school and has settled in and I am now in a strange situation where I can’t see how he is progressing or even go to drop him off inside.
'If I had been told this was their intended policy then maybe I would not have considered sending my son to the school in the first place.
Anjum Anwar, chair of Woman's Voice, an advice group for the Asian community in Lancashire, has been liaising between the mother and school in an attempt to find a solution.
She said: 'After meeting with the headteacher and governing body, we had hoped that the situation would have been resolved.
'We are saddened to hear this young lady is still not given access to participate in her child's education because of her faith.'
Headteacher Colette Gillen said it was important parents were able to discuss children's progress with staff and revealed she had offered to set up one-to-one meetings between the woman and staff members in her private office.
'This means neither position would be compromised,' said Mrs Gillen. 'While this would be acceptable, the difficulty would be if a number of ladies wearing veils were free to wander the corridors or rooms.
'It would not be feasible to monitor who is who. All policies and procedures have to attempt to cater for every eventuality.'
Mrs Gillen pointed to their Ofsted report which rated the school 'outstanding' for its community cohesion, care and guidance.
Jack Straw MP yesterday refused to comment on the latest row over veils in his constituency.