A Muslim woman has launched legal action against her daughter’s school after being told she was not permitted to wear a face veil on the premises, news which left her “in a state of shock”.
Rachida Serroukh has begun a discrimination test case against the prestigious Holland Park school in London, complaining that she felt she “didn’t belong” after she was told she would not be allowed to wear a face veil at the school.
The 37-year-old told the Guardian she was “very shaken” when a teacher approached her and took her to a room to inform her of the school’s policy not to allow face veils, at an evening for parents of new pupils at Holland Park, last month.
“I was very shaken and was in a state of shock about what had happened. I had never experienced anything like this before,” she said. “When I got home, I just broke down.”
Ms Serroukh added that she had already been surprised by how, at the welcome event of about 200 parents – including five or six who were identifiably Muslim – the head teacher said that the school was secular and did not offer prayer rooms “although it showed video footage of the school choir singing in a church”.
A qualified childcare assistant, who told the Guardian she would lift her veil while working with children, she wrote to Holland Park for clarification on its policies with regards to the controversial garment, which have been banned by a number of nations as a counterterror measure.
The deputy headmaster wrote back, stating that it had “not been necessary to date” for the school to have a written policy on the face veil, and continued: “Given the concerns you have raised, we are now considering a written amendment to our health and safety policy to include this specific requirement and will follow the normal protocol of seeking the approval of the governing body.”
In a second letter, the school said it was a health and safety issue to be able to identify everyone on the premises. It read: “We would wish to reiterate that no offence was intended when Mrs … met with you to discuss the situation on the evening of the welcome interviews and it was the school’s intention to provide clarity and transparency.”
But Ms Serroukh said the incident left her feeling excluded, telling the Guardian: “I feel like I don’t belong here even though I live across the road and used to attend the school.” “What has happened to me at Holland Park is discrimination. I hope we can resolve the matter amicably,” she said.
Attiq Malik, of Liberty Law Solicitors, who is representing Ms Serroukh in court, said the case was a “straightforward” test case of discrimination on the grounds of religion.
“The Government constantly talks about British values. To me, those values include diversity and multiculturalism. If a school in London is doing this, what might be happening elsewhere?” he said.