School in UK suspends woman over veil
Date: 13 Oct 2006
School suspends woman over veil
A primary school suspends a Muslim classroom assistant who refused to remove her veil during lessons.
A Muslim woman has been suspended by a school in West Yorkshire after she insisted on wearing a veil in lessons.
Bilingual support worker Aishah Azmi, 24, was asked to remove the veil after pupils found it hard to understand her during English language lessons.
Headfield Church of England Junior School, in Dewsbury, said she could wear the veil outside the classroom.
Ms Azmi refused and was suspended pending the outcome of an employment tribunal, Kirklees Council said.
The tribunal heard the case in September and is due to announce its decision within the next two weeks.
There is no religious obligation whatsoever for Muslim women to cover themselves up in front of primary school children
Shahid Malik, Labour MP for Dewsbury
Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik backed the school's decision, saying: "In schools the top priority has got to be the education of our children.
"I fully support the decision of the education authority and the school in requesting the classroom assistant remove her veil when teaching primary school children.
"I believe the education authority has bent over backwards to be accommodating and has been extremely reasonable and sensible in the decision it has come to.
"There is no religious obligation whatsoever for Muslim women to cover themselves up in front of primary school children."
The school, which has 529 pupils aged seven to 11, takes many children from different ethnic backgrounds where English is not the first language.
An Ofsted report carried out in February said: "The first languages spoken by most children are Panjabi, Gujarati and Urdu, and many children are still learning to speak English.
"Significant improvement is required in relation to the inadequate standards of achievement reached by children and their slow progress over time.
"Children's speaking skills are poor and this holds them back in most aspects of their work."
Kirklees Council's children's services spokesman, Jim Dodds, said Ms Azmi's suspension was "nothing to do with religion".
"We are simply trying to ensure that our children get the best possible education," he said.
"Both pupils and teachers raised concerns because they were finding it difficult to make out what she was saying during lessons.
"We have a lot of pupils who do not speak English as a first language and you have to be able to see people's lips move when you are being taught.
"We asked this young lady to remove her veil when she was teaching English language, but she refused."
Mr Dodds said that even if Ms Azmi won her case the council would not change its position.
"Our only concern is that the children are taught properly," he said.
Last week, Commons leader Jack Straw angered some Muslims when he said wearing the veil made community relations more difficult.
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