France Monitors Schools for Abaya Dress Violations

PARIS: As students throughout the nation return to school, French authorities are keeping an eye on more than 500 schools for indications that students may be infringing a recently imposed ban on the Muslim women’s dress known as the abaya, the education minister said on Monday.

The government made the announcement to outlaw the abaya last month, claiming that it violated the secularism in education regulations that have previously seen Muslim headscarves outlawed.

The action pleased the political right, but the left claimed it violated civil liberties.

“There are 513 establishments that we have identified as potentially concerned by this question at the start of the school year,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal told RTL radio.

He said work had been done ahead of the start of the school year to see in which schools this could present a problem, adding that trained school inspectors would be placed in certain schools.

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There are around 45,000 schools in France, with 12 million pupils going back to school on Monday.

The hard-left has accused the government of centrist President Emmanuel Macron of trying with the abaya ban to compete with Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and shifting further to the right.

Attal however said he was against imposing a ban on parents wearing clothes that had religious significance when they accompanied their children on school outings.

“There is a difference between what happens in school and what happens outside school. What matters to me is what happens in school,” he said.

A law introduced in March 2004 banned “the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” in schools. This includes large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves.

Unlike headscarves, abayas occupied a grey area and had faced no outright ban until now.

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