Cape school sets trend on religious headscarves

CAPE TOWN - Religious freedom in schools is in the spotlight again.

A Cape Town school is setting a precedent for inclusivity by formally adopting the headscarf into its school uniform.

But a private German school has been lambasted for not permitting a female Muslim student to wear a headscarf.

Tamboerskloof Primary School has always allowed Muslim females students to wear a headscarf if they so wished.

Now this government school has formally adopted the hijab as part of its uniform.

"It's never been a problem as long as the children stick to what the prescription was. Recently it became a bit of a problem in that the navy blues have changed, the size of the scarves has altered, so we decided to formalise it," said school principal Joy McGilton.

But, a nearby private school, has not been as accommodating.

A Muslim student from Egypt, who transferred from the German International School in Cairo to one in Cape Town, was told she couldn’t wear her headscarf.

"Our feeling is it should be a neutral ground. It shouldn't display one culture against the other one," said the school's principal, Hermann Battenberg.

The headscarf has now become a contentious issue for the whole school.

In solidarity with the Muslim girl, fellow pupils – male and female - have protested against school policy by wearing headscarves themselves.

The school is now rethinking its rules.

"The board now is discussing, and the student body is discussing, the parents are discussing, so we are open to any conclusion," said Battenberg.

The Department of Basic Education has no jurisdiction over private schools, but, says everyone should abide by the Constitution.

"Governing bodies have the right to set dress codes, that is their right. But it has to be within the terms of the Constitution," said provincial education spokesperson Paddy Attwell.

The Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa said an effort should be made to accommodate all religious and cultural beliefs. 

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