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ISLAM

Lower Saxony set to ban Islamic face veils in schools

The case of a Muslim pupil refusing to remove her niqab triggered debate in Lower Saxony. Now a new law may mean that full-face Islamic veils will no longer be allowed in state schools.

Lower Saxony set to ban Islamic face veils in schools
Fully-veiled Muslim women in Hesse. Photo: DPA.

The state of Lower Saxony is expected to announce a ban on face veils such as burqas and niqabs in schools in August, following a unanimous decision by the state parliament on Thursday to amend current education policies, reports the Branschweiger Zeitung.

A niqab covers the whole body except for a slit for the eyes, whereas a burqa fully covers the body including the eyes.

The state's school board also plans on publishing regulations for the practical handling of the ban.

Some parent and and school group representatives at a state parliament meeting rejected the ban, including Birhat Kaçar, chair of Lower Saxony's pupils' council, who said the policy would not solve the problems that come with dealing with fully-veiled pupils. Kaçar argued that issues involving religious attire should be dealt with by the schools themselves.

The chair of Lower Saxony’s parents’ council, Mike Finke, also said such matters should be the responsibility of schools to decide.

But the Association of Lower Saxony Teachers supported the ban, with the group's chair, Manfred Busch, arguing that schools need clarity in cases of conflict, as well as legal certainty. At the same time, Busch also noted that schools also need a certain margin of discretion to make decisions.

The Federation of Turkish Parent Groups in Lower Saxony also supported the ban, with chair Seyhan Öztürk saying that full-body veils hinder students' ability to fully participate during lessons.

Over the past year, Lower Saxony has heatedly debated several cases of female students wanting to wear face veils to classes. One case that attracted particular attention was that of a girl in Belm near Osnabrück who had been attending classes for years in a niqab, writes the Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung.

SEE ALSO: Muslim teen banned from wearing face veil in school

When and where Muslim women are allowed to wear religious clothing is continuously debated across Germany and differs in other states.

Bavaria, for example, passed a law implemented this month banning burqas and niqabs in many public places, including kindergartens, universities, and polling centres.

In April, German lawmakers approved a partial ban on the burqa for officers and soldiers following several jihadist attacks.

Article 4 of Germany's constitutional law or Grundgesetz states that religious freedom is a fundamental right.

“Freedom of faith and of conscience, and freedom to profess a religious or philosophical creed, shall be inviolable,” it states.

READ ALSO: When Muslim women are allowed to wear headscarves in Germany, and when not

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EDUCATION

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

Children between ages 6-9 years should be allowed admittance to after-school recreation centers free of charge, according to a report submitted to Sweden’s Minister of Education Lotta Edholm (L).

Inquiry calls for free after-school care for 6-9 year-olds in Sweden

“If this reform is implemented, after-school recreation centers will be accessible to the children who may have the greatest need for the activities,” said Kerstin Andersson, who was appointed to lead a government inquiry into expanding access to after-school recreation by the former Social Democrat government. 

More than half a million primary- and middle-school-aged children spend a large part of their school days and holidays in after-school centres.

But the right to after-school care is not freely available to all children. In most municipalities, it is conditional on the parent’s occupational status of working or studying. Thus, attendance varies and is significantly lower in areas where unemployment is high and family finances weak.

In this context, the previous government formally began to inquire into expanding rights to leisure. The report was recently handed over to Sweden’s education minister, Lotta Edholm, on Monday.

Andersson proposed that after-school activities should be made available free of charge to all children between the ages of six and nine in the same way that preschool has been for children between the ages of three and five. This would mean that children whose parents are unemployed, on parental leave or long-term sick leave will no longer be excluded. 

“The biggest benefit is that after-school recreation centres will be made available to all children,” Andersson said. “Today, participation is highest in areas with very good conditions, while it is lower in sparsely populated areas and in areas with socio-economic challenges.” 

Enforcing this proposal could cause a need for about 10,200 more places in after-school centre, would cost the state just over half a billion kronor a year, and would require more adults to work in after-school centres. 

Andersson recommends recruiting staff more broadly, and not insisting that so many staff are specialised after-school activities teachers, or fritidspedagod

“The Education Act states that qualified teachers are responsible for teaching, but that other staff may participate,” Andersson said. “This is sometimes interpreted as meaning that other staff may be used, but preferably not’. We propose that recognition be given to so-called ‘other staff’, and that they should be given a clear role in the work.”

She suggested that people who have studied in the “children’s teaching and recreational programmes” at gymnasium level,  people who have studied recreational training, and social educators might be used. 

“People trained to work with children can contribute with many different skills. Right now, it might be an uncertain work situation for many who work for a few months while the employer is looking for qualified teachers”, Andersson said. 

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