Sunday 26 January 2020

Inclusion advice to Catholic schools covers Henna skin decorations and facial hair

Henna tattoo
Henna tattoo
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Henna skin decorations for Hindus and facial hair for male Sikh students are among the topics covered in new guidelines for Catholic secondary schools on the inclusion of pupils of different beliefs.

They offer practical suggestions to schools in how to deal with the breadth of issues that arise, stretching from uniforms and display of religious imagery to curriculum matters including sex education, music and PE.

The wide-ranging advice also outlines the rituals and celebrations in many other traditions, including how to respond to a death.

The guidelines are published by the Joint Managerial Body (JMB), representing almost 400 Catholic second-level schools, to reflect the growing religious and cultural diversity in schools.

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Previous JMB advice in 2010 has been updated and the first indication of how thinking has evolved is the reference in the title to "students of different beliefs", replacing "students of other faiths", to acknowledge the rise in the number of people with no religious belief.

While seeking to ensure that pupils of all faiths and none feel included, the guidelines also send a clear message to schools about remaining true to their Catholic identity.

For instance, in the area of religious education (RE), they stress that "it should always be made clear to parents that students will be experiencing the values and ethos of the school in the day-to-day running of the school, not just in RE class".

The guidelines support the prominent display of Catholic religious imagery in schools, and suggest that pupils from different faiths could be invited to display art/icons around the time of their major feasts.

Schools are encouraged to set up a sacred space, with images and symbols from the Christian tradition, but acknowledging other faiths through, for instance, prayer mats and cushions to cater for different styles of praying, and also having an interfaith space, with other symbols.

In the area of clothing, it states that no one should be prevented from wearing a religious symbol or garment in accordance with their tradition, such as the hijab for Muslim girls or the turban for Sikh boys.

While it is rare for female Muslim pupils to wear the full veil, or niqab, female principals and teachers are advised that if a mother is fully veiled, it is reasonable to ask them to uncover their face for a meeting, on the understanding that no man will enter the room.

The guidelines point to the practice by Hindu females particularly, and Muslims from India, to paint their hands and feet around the time of a religious festival, which "should be regarded with understanding".

Schools that have a policy of no facial hair are asked to make an allowance for Sikhs, as this is an essential aspect of their religious observance.

Curriculum matters covered include Muslim attitudes to music, with some considering it sinful, with advice to explain to parents who wish to withdraw their son or daughter from class that music promoting immoral behaviour, or consumption of alcohol or drugs, is not part of the curriculum.

Where Muslims are concerned about sex education, schools are urged to provide an opportunity for parents to discuss the moral framework before discussing whether to withdraw their child. PE can also be problematic for Muslims, on modesty grounds, and among the solutions proffered are for girls to wear a burkini, a short wet suit.

Irish Independent

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