Parents of a Muslim student at St. Cyprian’s Greek Orthodox School in London are suing because their daughter is not allowed to wear a hijab in class. The school uniform guidelines prohibit head-coverings, something that parents claim goes against their religious belief that girls’ heads must be covered when in the presence of male teachers.
Over the past several years, a number of Muslim students and their families have challenged uniform guidelines in British schools on the grounds that they contradict their religious convictions. The first to make a splash was a six-year-old lawsuit against a decision by a Luton-area school to prohibit a student from wearing a traditional Muslim gown to class. Although in the initial stages the family prevailed, the decision was later overturned by a Court of Appeals.
Last year, a north London school was also found to have broken antidiscrimination legislation when it turned away a pupil for wearing cornrow braids in his hair.
Current Government guidance on uniforms says that schools should “act reasonably” in accommodating various beliefs relating to clothes, hair and religious artefacts.
The guidelines, however, also leave the final authority with the head teacher, allowing them to limit religious expression of their students if doing so protects the rest of the students or can be considered unsafe.
The nine-year-old at the center of the current case had been attending St. Cyprian for two years ever since her parents pulled her out of another private school. When the family became aware of the hijab ban, they first lodged a complaint with school governors. When the governors declined to reverse the ban, the student was removed from the school and a legal challenge was filed with the High Court.
Head of St. Cyprian Kate Magliocco says that the problem arose after the girl had hit puberty, the age when Muslim females are expected to begin covering themselves in the presence of males who are not family.
“The decision not to allow her to wear a headscarf was taken by the governing body,” she added.
“The school has a very particular uniform policy, which is shared with parents and, as head, I must follow the plan. The pupil in question came to us from a private school.
“Her parents actively chose us and, before she arrived, we held a meeting which included details of the uniform plan.”
The family’s first appeal to the High Court was rejected last year, and the subsequent application is not scheduled to be heard until next month. Meanwhile, the family’s son continues to attend St. Cyprian, but the female student has not returned to class.