School in ‘pass law’ furore
Principal withdraws headscarf cards
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