4 Oct 2013

Is it fair to ban beards from the classroom?

A school in Lancashire bars two Muslim schoolboys from classes because they will not shave off their beards. Should school uniform rules be respected – or is this a step too far?

Discrimination or discipline? Row in Lancashire over two boys who refuse to shave off their beards (Getty)

The two boys were placed in isolation and taught separately from classmates after refusing to remove their facial hair at Mount Carmel Roman Catholic high school in Accrington, Lancashire.

The school’s head teacher said there were “standards to maintain”, insisting it was about the dress code, not religion. The two 14-year-old students are Muslims.

The school also prohibits false nails, fake tan, make-up, dyed hair and “inappropriate jewellery”.

It is not necessarily a religious obligation, but it is for some an essential expression of piety. Muslim Council of Britain

However, the Muslim Council of Britain told Channel 4 News it was about more than just a sartorial choice – and the boys’ stance should be respected.

“Following the example of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) many Muslim males choose to keep a beard, which is considered to be an adornment of a man’s face,” a spokeswoman said.

“It is not necessarily a religious obligation, but it is for some an essential expression of piety. Any decision by Muslim pupils to manifest their religion by growing a beard should be respected by their school, just as Sikh men are rightly allowed to don turbans and grow beards.”

A relative of the students also told the local paper, the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, that it was “pure discrimination”.

‘Important to maintain standards’

But head teacher Xavier Bowers was sticking to his guns.

In a statement issued via Lancashire County Council, he said: “I am fully aware of the sensitive nature of this issue and have done my very best to be as understanding and reasonable as possible when dealing with situations of this nature.

“When necessary, we place pupils in our learning support centre who do not comply with our school policy regarding uniform and appearance.

“Here at Mount Carmel RC High School, we believe that it’s important to maintain high standards in every aspect of school life, including appearance and uniform. Pupils and parents are reminded frequently of the rules on appearance, know that they apply to everyone and are regularly reminded of this.

“In my experience, families choose to send their children to this school because of our high standards and expectations.”

The beard row comes in the wake of similar controversy last month over female students in Birmingham wearing the niqab.

Mr Bowers had earlier told the Lancashire Evening Telegraph that he had spent time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders. The clean-shaven rule has apparently been in place for some time, although two boys were allowed to keep their beards on religious grounds as an “exception” last year as their GCSE exams approached and the school did not want to place them under “unfair pressure”.

He said that a number of other Asian boys were then spoken to and it was made clear they must return from the summer clean shaven.

It is understood talks are ongoing between the school and the families of the two boys to resolve the issue.

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