Swiss school tells Muslim pupil to take off hijab in class

A high school in the canton of Bern has banned a Muslim pupil from wearing the hijab in class, Swiss media reported on Monday.

The 14-year-old Muslim girl was sent home from her school in Thun last week after being told that wearing the hijab contravened a school rule forbidding pupils from covering their heads, reported Le Matin.

Speaking to the paper, the school’s director said they were having “constructive discussions” with the girl’s parents and that “a solution would emerge”.

But a compromise could be difficult to find since there is no legal basis for prohibiting the hijab in class.

In 2011 the Bern cantonal government refused a proposal by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party (UDC) calling for regulation of school uniform, saying instead that schools should have the right to decide for themselves what is appropriate.

However a 2009 paper on religious and cultural traditions and symbols issued by Bern’s office of state education spells out student rights regarding clothing.

It reads: “The canton of Bern has made no directives concerning clothing in schools. Pupils therefore have the right to wear kippahs, veils, crucifixes and other items and to wear their hair according to their religion.”

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State education official Erwin Sommer told Le Matin that the directive applies to all schools.

“If what the student says is correct, we will  be speaking to the director [of the school] about the situation,” he said.

The wearing of the veil regularly causes controversy in Switzerland.

Ticino is the only canton to have a law forbidding people from covering their faces with burquas or niqabs in public, though that does not extend to the hijab.

In July 2013 the federal court ruled in favour of two Albanian students who encountered a similar situation in Bürglen in the canton of Thurgau, reported news agency ATS.

The court ruled that a legal basis would be required to prevent pupils wearing the hijab to school, and that a simple school rule was not sufficient.

And in November 2014 a court in St Gallen backed another student whose school had banned her from wearing the hijab.

A ban would only be justified if it became “a serious threat to the religious peace”, said the court at the time.

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