New school guidelines rule out full face veils
The full face veil used by Muslim girls should not be worn in Catholic secondary school, according to new guidelines.
Schools have been given fresh guidelines on dealing with pupils of other faiths -- including those who wish to wear the Muslim veil.
The schools have also been given guidance on how to deal with thorny issues such as sex education and uniforms for the growing number of pupils of different religions.
Practical advice on issues ranging from the wearing of veils by Muslim girls, to assuring parents that the school is not trying to convert pupils to Catholicism, has been issued to the 450 schools.
Schools had previously sought guidance on how to tread the line between upholding their Catholic ethos while also embracing pupils from other religious traditions.
Now the Joint Managerial Body, the representative body for Catholic secondary schools, has provided its 'Guidelines on the Inclusion of Students from other Faiths in Catholic Secondary Schools'. They were drawn up by Aiveen Mullally, an expert on religion and culture.
Among the issues that arise is the preference of Islamic parents to provide their own guidance about sexual behaviour; concern that modern pop music may include obscene language; and the participation of girls in sports that also involve boys.
Schools have been told that a clear admissions policy, stating that it is a Catholic school and explaining to parents prior to enrolment what that means, avoids a lot of difficulty.
According to the guidelines, any problems, such as uniform or religious education, should be discussed and resolved before the student is admitted.
Uniform is a potential area of conflict and no pupil or staff member should be prevented from wearing a religious symbol or garment, such as a turban for Sikh boys or a hijab for Muslim girls.
However, the guidelines draw a distinction between the hijab and the niqab, the full veil worn over a Muslim girl's face.
Though a rare occurence, it would be unsatisfactory for a teacher not to be able to see and engage properly with a pupil whose face is covered.
Similarly, the guidelines state that it is reasonable to ask a pupil, or her mother, to uncover their face for a meeting -- but only on the understanding that no man will enter the room.
Other issues covered include Muslim students bringing in their own cutlery to the school canteen because of sensitivities about food preparation.
On religious education, the guidelines advise that schools should allay fears about content, and suggest the approach is "not proselytising in nature".
A child may be withdrawn from religious class, as is their constitutional right, but this presents logistical problems and the responsibility for supervision rests with the parents.
Students of a different denomination cannot insist on their own religious instruction, but if there is a large group of a particular faith, the guidelines suggest it would be respectful to invite ministers or leaders from that faith into the schools during religious education times to meet those pupils.
They also recommended recognition of other religious festivals, provided the festivals and seasons of the Christian calendar are prominently acknowledged and celebrated.
Depending on the number of students of other faiths, the school should also decide whether a prayer room is specifically a Catholic place of worship or welcome to those of all faiths.