Muslim headscarf rows hit Christian schools
Conflicts are developing in Irish schools over the wearing of the hijab, or headscarf, by Muslim pupils, it was disclosed yesterday.
The issue is a major challenge in faith-based schools where the headscarf is definitely not part of the standard school uniform.
The president of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) Aine O'Neill said that in some Christian faith-based schools, perhaps as much as a third of the students were not of the majority faith.
She was aware of some of her colleagues who were experiencing conflicts over religion in Christian schools where non-Christian students were enrolled.
"Unfortunately bullying has become part of the issue in some schools. Those of us who work with children know that a child who is different in some way to the majority is a target for bullies," she told an NAPD symposium on diversity in the Royal Hospital Kilmainham.
Education sources said last night that her comments are the first public statement about conflicts over the hajib, the use of which has caused tensions in schools in the UK and France."
Ms O'Neill said the "new Irish" came from many and varied cultures. While language differences were obvious, less obvious were the multiple, diverse and contrasting social and religious customs the newcomers brought with them.
She noted that in Ireland there is no official policy on facilitating the integration of children from culturally diverse backgrounds.
"Will we see a situation where one school will allow or encourage cultural diversity and another will not? The Equal Status Act prohibits discrimination on nine grounds, one of which is race, and another is religion. We can't have schools which don't 'do' non-nationals, as we had schools in the past which didn't 'do' special needs students," she said.
She warned that if the Department did not provide official policy on this then each of the management bodies would be obliged to do so and "we may then add to the conflict rather than provide cohesion".