UK woman banned from daughter’s school over face veil

UK woman banned from daughter’s school over face veil

Lawyer for Rachida Serroukh says decision by school to bar face coverings despite no written policy is ‘straightforward’ discrimination

Illustrative: Muslim woman in a face veil in Jerusalem's Old City, 12 September 2008. (Kobi Gideon/FLASH90)
Illustrative: Muslim woman in a face veil in Jerusalem's Old City, 12 September 2008. (Kobi Gideon/FLASH90)

A Muslim woman in the United Kingdom filed a lawsuit against her daughter’s school for discrimination, after being informed she could not wear a veil there.

Rachida Serroukh, 37, said the decision to file suit was made after she was told by staff at London’s prestigious Holland Park school during a parents event in June that she would not be allowed to visit the school with her face covered.

“I was very shaken and was in a state of shock about what had happened,” she told The Guardian on Friday. “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.”

Attiq Malik, Serroukh’s lawyer, said that the incident was a “straightforward” case of religious discrimination.

“The government constantly talks about British values. To me, those values include diversity and multiculturalism. If a school in London is doing this, what might be happening elsewhere?,” he told The Guardian.

Illustrative photo of Muslim women wearing burqas (AFP/Torsten Blackwood/File)
Illustrative photo of Muslim women wearing burqas (AFP/Torsten Blackwood/File)

Serroukh said that while at the June event, she was approached by a school official, who asked to speak with her privately, telling her that face coverings were not permitted at the school.

She told The Guardian that at first she was confused, as she believed the official was referring to her daughter.

“I explained clearly that my daughter wears a headscarf and would not be coming to school in a face veil. Then I realized she was talking about me not my daughter,” she said.

Serroukh, who lives near the school and is also an alumnus, said that she requested numerous times to see the school’s policy banning veils, as a friend of hers who also wears a face covering had been attending events for years at the school without incident.

“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.”

She said she was then told by the official to leave the school through the back entrance but refused, saying she needed get her daughter and would leave through the front doors.

Following the incident, Serroukh told The Guardian that she asked the school for an explanation on why she was banned, as the UK’s education department rules say schools may decide for themselves if students and teachers can wear veils, but does not address parents or visitors.

“It has not been necessary to date for the school to have this requirement stated in written policy,” deputy school head Ross Wilson wrote back to her. “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.”

In response, 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.”

She was later told by Wilson that “we would wish to reiterate that no offence was intended when Mrs … met with you to discuss the situation on the evening of the welcome interviews and it was the school’s intention to provide clarity and transparency.”

Serroukh told The Guardian that as a result of the incident, she feels like she has been excluded from the community.

“I feel like I don’t belong here even though I live across the road and used to attend the school,” while adding that “what has happened to me at Holland Park is discrimination. I hope we can resolve the matter amicably.”

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