School in ‘pass law’ furore

Prin­ci­pal with­draws head­scarf cards

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE - ANNA WATERS anna.waters@inl.co.za

APROMINENT Joburg school has had to re­voke its uni­form pol­icy after it came un­der fire on so­cial me­dia, with many com­par­ing it to apartheid-era pass laws.

The is­sue came to light after a North­cliff High School par­ent posted an im­age on Face­book of a card her daugh­ter was re­quired to carry to al­low her to wear a head­scarf at school.

So­cial me­dia users were quick to com­pare the card to apartheid-era cards black South Africans were re­quired to carry.

Ed­u­ca­tion MEC Panyaza Le­sufi con­tacted the school and ex­plained “how neg­a­tive and di­vi­sive it now re­flects in the pub­lic eye”. The prin­ci­pal, Wal­ter Es­sex-Clark, said the school uni­form did not al­low scarves, so “con­ces­sion cards” must be is­sued by the school for any uni­form de­vi­a­tion.

He gave the ex­am­ple of pupils who needed to grow beards for roles in the school play who were granted con­ces­sion cards.

“In or­der to en­sure the child is not given any rep­ri­mand or pun­ish­ment for uni­form in­fringe­ment from teach­ers, we is­sue them a per­mis­sion or con­ces­sion card so that if teach­ers no­tice dif­fer­ent at­tire, they can see that the child has per­mis­sion to de­vi­ate from the uni­form,” ex­plained Es­sex-Clark.

He said he could not think of any ex­am­ples of teach­ers rep­ri­mand­ing pupils for wear­ing head­scarves. The pol­icy, he said, had been in place for decades for pupils who, for re­li­gious, health or other rea­sons, need to de­vi­ate from the uni­form pol­icy.

“We have never had a com­plaint about these cards from any child or par­ent at this school, and we were not con­tacted by the par­ent who posted about the card on so­cial me­dia,” Es­sex-Clark said.

“We al­ways wel­come any com­ments, and par­ents are al­ways wel­come to talk to me.”

He em­pha­sised that the pol­icy was never meant to dis­crim­i­nate against Mus­lim pupils, and that in his more than 10 years as prin­ci­pal, no pupil had ever been de­nied the right to wear a head­scarf.

“There’s no room for dis­crim­i­na­tion in our school­ing en­vi­ron­ment,” Le­sufi said on Twit­ter.

On a Face­book post by the par­ent, Abeedah Adams, that had been shared more than 500 times, dozens of South Africans weighed in on the con­tro­versy.

“If the school fails to drop the re­quire­ment, we will take it to the CRL Rights Com­mis­sion (Com­mis­sion for the Pro­mo­tion and Pro­tec­tion of the Rights of Cul­tural, Re­li­gious and Lin­guis­tic Com­mu­ni­ties),” com­mented ac­tivist and hu­man­i­tar­ian Yusuf Abram­jee.

“‘Lil Becky can wear Nike sneak­ers and walk on stolen land, but an African Child in AFRIKA can­not be re­spected for prac­tis­ing her re­li­gion pro­tected by the Bill of Rights?” com­mented Joe Black Sam. One teacher said the school should be given the ben­e­fit of the doubt, and the rule could help Mus­lim pupils at risk of be­ing dis­crim­i­nated against.

“I used to be a teacher and I would give kids a RE­ALLY hard time if they didn’t ad­here to the school rules,” com­mented Robyn Clark Ra­jab.

“Hav­ing a card to prove that you are wear­ing takkies for a rea­son (in­jury) saves a kid a lot of trou­ble from ex­plain­ing to EV­ERY DAMN SHOUT­ING teacher why they’re wear­ing takkies. (And to prove that they’re not ly­ing, etc.)

“The same can be said for scarves. It may not be the most el­e­gant so­lu­tion, but to be hon­est, it pro­tects learn­ers and teach­ers.”

But Shafee­qah Jap­pie, an­other teacher, had a dif­fer­ent view, say­ing the cards were un­nec­es­sary. “It’s a pub­lic high school, there­fore the con­ces­sion card shouldn’t be there for head­scarves. In South Africa we have free­dom of re­li­gion (shukr Al­ham­dulil­lah), and be­cause of it be­ing a pub­lic high school, chil­dren are al­lowed to ex­press their re­li­gion.

“The school can’t be that big that you don’t no­tice the Mus­lims in the school. I’m a teacher and I know who are the Mus­lims in my class and even in the school. We don’t need con­ces­sion cards.”

Le­sufi said he had felt com­pelled to in­ter­vene. “I ex­plained to the prin­ci­pal how neg­a­tive and di­vi­sive it re­flects in the pub­lic eye. He has agreed to with­draw the cards.”

IN­TER­VENED: MEC Panyaza Le­sufi

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