Turbans in Belgian Schools

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Overview

Belgium is divided into two communities - the Flemish (Dutch) speaking community known as Flanders (Vlaanderen) and the French speaking community known as Wallonia. This page solely covers the situation in Flanders until more knowledge is gained about the situation in Wallonia.

Article 24 of the Belgian Constitution provides that every child has the right to education. Moreover, freedom of education here means that parents are free to choose whether their children to a public school or community-based school e.g. catholic school. At present (Nov 2010), there is no law banning religious symbols in public schools. Individual school boards can, however, determine whether a child may be allowed to wear his religious symbol or not. If a child refuses to take off his religious symbol, the child can, and in many cases in the past, has been denied admission to the school.

Flemish Education System

Schools in the Flemish education system can be divided into three groups: public schools, subsidized public schools and subsidized private schools.

Public schools are organized by the Flemish government and are required by the Belgian constitution to be neutral. This means that everyone should be able to attend and the religious, philosophical or ideological convictions of parents and pupils must be respected. An administrative council, which is responsible for various strategic and operational matters pertaining to all the public schools in Flanders is known as [GO!].

Subsidized public schools includes the municipal education, urban and provincial schools. They are united in umbrella organizations: the Secretariat of the Association of Flemish Cities and Municipalities (OVSG) and the Provincial Education Flanders (POV).

Subsidized private schools consist primarily of Catholic schools. They are united under a body known as the Flemish Secretariat for Catholic Education (VSKO), also known as the "Guimard". There are also Protestant and Jewish schools among others. In addition to these denominational schools, there are also private schools that are not linked to religion eg alternative schools (Freinet, Montessori, etc).

Each city has a group of people such as community leaders, school principals and experts, which meet to discuss individual cases of 'difficult' pupils, with the purpose of giving each student an equal chance at education. This body, known as the[ Lokale Overleg Platform], aims to fulfil the Belgian constitution of giving each student equal opportunities at education.

Religious Symbols

The Belgian constitution requires communities to establish neutral education, which takes into account the philosophical, ideological and religious beliefs of parents and pupils. Moreover, the Constitution provides that all pupils or students, parents, staff and schools are equal before the law or decree. Apart from these constitutional principles, the federal government is responsible for the quality of education in Flemish schools. The schools are widely spread around the country and are most commonly named Atheneum + name of village or city

In practice however, Flemish politics does not meddle in school matters. Most of the decision-making policy rests with the individual schools' board of management. Each school has a set of rules, which contains rules on matters such as admission of pupils, fees etc. The rule most relevant to allowing religious symbols in schools (page 20, nr.21) is:

The school board, the organizing body of the school is in the position to decide whether a headscarf and other religious symbols is to be allowed in the school or not.

History until 2009

Schools have increasingly banned religious symbols in recent years due to various reasons. Originally, this prohibition was applied to prevent Muslim girls from being forced against their will to wear a headscarf. This led to a high concentration of headscarf wearing students in some schools which did not ban religious symbols.

Schools containing a high concentration of headscarf-wearing students saw several tensions between moslem students who wore headscarves and those who did not. Several moslem students who did not wear a headscarf reported being threatened by their peers who wore or advocated wearing one. These tensions became so bad that the administrative council GO! made a decision in September 2009 to ban religious symbols in all Flemish public schools starting in the school year 2009-2010. Because some schools had already set the school regulations for 2009-2010, the ban was postponed to school year 2010-2011.

History from 2010 onwards

Upon hearing of this ban, various members of the public wrote to their members of parliament as well as the Flemish education ministry. The Supreme Administrative court of Belgium declared the ban as unconstitutional and ordered GO! to suspend their decision, while the Belgian Constitional Court was asked to examine whether GO!'s decision is in conflict with the Belgian constitution. A decision has not been made as of November 2010.

Initiatives by the Belgian Sikh Community

The Sikh community in Belgium are making several initiatives to have their children allowed to be wear their patka / dastaar in schools. These are listed in the sections below.

Collaboration with Internationaal Committe

TBD

Black Book (Zwartboek)

Links

http://sikhs.be/TulbandEnOnderwijs.html (Dutch)