PARIS (AP) — A 15-year-old French Muslim girl has been banned from her classroom for wearing a long black skirt, seen as going against France's law guaranteeing secularism.
She missed two days this month in a dispute over her skirt, French education officials said Wednesday, and the issue remains unresolved.
A popular Twitter hashtag #jeportemajupecommejeveux (I wear my skirt as I like) popped up on Wednesday after the dispute was made public in the girl's local newspaper in Charleville-Mezieres, in northeast France.
School officials say the skirt itself was not the issue. Rather, the problem was that the student had worn it specifically as a sign of her faith — contravening the 2004 law barring religious symbols in classrooms below university level.
The student, identified as Sarah, was among a group of at least five girls who arrived at the Leo Lagrange school in recent weeks with long skirts — and Islamic headscarves which they removed before entering school, the Reims Academy Services said.
The students were asked to change into "neutral clothing" before coming to class. Sarah complied, then stopped coming to class, the Academy Services said.
"It was a concerted action ... with a will to put a (religious) identity on display," Patrice Dutot, inspector of the Ardennes Academy which oversees schools in the area, said by telephone.
Unlike most European countries, France prohibits "ostentatious" religious symbols in classrooms. The 2004 law, which Muslims groups said at the time stigmatized them, was complemented with a 2010 law banning head-covering face veils in streets and other public places.
Dutot said the school has worked with the students and families for two weeks to explain why the long skirt contravened the law, but the family "wasn't satisfied."
"It is not the long skirt that is the problem," Dutot said. The issue is that the girls "had agreed to wear the same skirts .... to display their belonging" to a religious group.
The incident comes as the issue of secularism rises to the fore in France following the deadly January attacks by three Muslim extremists, as politicians and others look to preserve the French identity, of which secularism is an integral part.
Scores of Muslim girls who refuse to remove their headscarves have left schools due to enforcement of the 2004 law.
New questions are being asked as to whether a ban on religious symbols should be extended to universities, policed in businesses or whether school canteens should systematically offer alternative meals when pork is served.