France Investigation

'I don't want you staying at home making couscous': what a French headteacher told Muslim pupils

Last autumn France's Ministry of Education issued an update on the rules and advice to education authorities regarding the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols, which are banned in French schools. Mediapart has investigated how this latest advice is being applied in one secondary school in Marseille. Several pupils there who have worn outfits judged to be contrary to the rules say they have been “persecuted” by the school management. They also complain of scandalous comments made by the school's headteacher. Teachers meanwhile talk of a “tense” atmosphere and a divided staffroom. Yasmine Sellami reports.

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“It's a good secondary school as long as you don't wear a headscarf.” 'Imène' – not her real name – is a pupil at Victor-Hugo, one of three secondary schools or lycées in Marseille categorised as priority establishments for the southern city in terms of funding and development. Since the start of the current academic year she has been summoned in to see school management four times after her outfits were judged by senior staff and some teachers to be “Islamic”. Under a 2004 French law the wearing of “conspicuous” religious symbols is banned in the country's schools. “I no longer know what to wear,” she says.

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