Britain says schools have right to ban students from wearing Muslim veils

The British government said Tuesday that schools can ban students from wearing Muslim veils if teachers believe they affect safety, security or pupils' learning.

School administrators have the right to ban students from covering their faces under a new uniform policy, but educators should speak with parents before introducing such a ban, the Education Ministry said.

"Schools should consult parents and the wider community when setting uniform policy," Schools Minister Jim Knight said.

"And while they should make every effort to accommodate social, religious or medical requirements of individual pupils, the needs of safety, security and effective learning in the school must always take precedence," he said.

Previously, schools were advised to accommodate a range of religions, but the rules published Tuesday spell out for the first time that concerns such as safety are valid reasons for limiting exceptions. The ministry regularly updates uniform guidelines.

All British schools are encouraged to have uniforms, as a way of instilling discipline and to help pupils focus in class. The updated guidelines cover a range of issues, including keeping uniforms affordable and spelling out disciplinary measures.

The ministry said head teachers had always had the right to set their school's uniform policy. Several recent court cases have challenged schools' decisions to ban some forms of Islamic dress.

Britain's highest appeals court ruled a year ago that a school acted properly in refusing to allow a student to wear a jilbab - a long, flowing gown covering all her body except her hands and face. The school said the clothing item was not permitted under school policy.

The issue of face-covering veils has sparked a debate over religious tolerance and cultural assimilation in Britain, which is home to 1.6 million Muslims, reports AP.

Ex-British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in October that he requested - but did not insist - that Muslim women remove face-covering veils during one-on-one meetings. Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the time that veils were seen as a "mark of separation."

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