Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A teaching assistant who refused to remove her Muslim veil in the classroom has been fired

Andrew Norfolk:

Aishah Azmi’s dismissal from a Church of England primary school in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, followed a lengthy period of suspension over her insistence on wearing the niqab in lessons led by a male teacher.

She had already failed to persuade an employment tribunal that she was a victim of religious discrimination and harassment by Kirklees local education authority.

Mrs Azmi, 24, said that it was her Islamic duty to wear the black veil, which covered her face except for a narrow slit at the eyes, in the presence of adult males who were not her blood relatives.

Headfield Junior School argued that its pupils, many of whom are learning to speak English, found it difficult to understand what Mrs Azmi was saying when her mouth was hidden.

In a statement issued yesterday, the LEA said that the school governing body’s staff dismissals committee had recently held a hearing to discuss Mrs Azmi’s case.

“As a result of the hearing, the committee decided to terminate the employment of the employee concerned,” it said.

Shahid Malik, the Labour MP for Dewsbury, said that the Azmi case had not been about religion but about seeking the best possible education for children at the school.

More than 90 per cent of Headfield’s pupils are Muslim, many of them learning English as a second language.

Earlier this year, Ofsted criticised “exceptionally low” standards of achievement by pupils and said that many of the school’s difficulties were caused by “speech and communication problems”.

Mr Malik said: “I’m obviously disappointed that a compromise could not be reached. While I defend her right to wear the veil in society, it’s very clear that her wearing the veil in the classroom inhibits her ability to support children.”

When she was observed during lessons, the tribunal heard that, “it was readily apparent that the children were seeking visual clues from her which they could not obtain because they could not see her facial expressions”.

UK: Muslim Veil Woman Is Sacked


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