Students at a top Auckland girls Christian school were told the hijab violates dress code despite national calls to support Muslim community in the wake of a terrorist attack.
Less than a week after the terror attack in Christchurch that killed 50 muslim worshipers, a top New Zealand girls school has banned the headscarf from its dress code.
The principal of Diocesan School for Girls, Heather McRae, told staff yesterday the Islamic hijab violated the dress code and was not allowed, according to a teacher at the school.
A teacher, who spoke to TRT World and does not wish to be named, said the announcement was made after concerns were raised by a colleague about some of the school’s Muslim students not being able to wear the hijab.
Two of the students who enquired about wearing the hijab were told it was against school policy. They raised it with their teacher, who wasn’t aware the policy existed.
“Then we had an announcement saying there was a staff briefing,” said the teacher.
In that briefing, he says McRae told staff the policy was not something new, and that she expected them to enact it and not fight it.
“She said ‘and of course, you’ve all signed onto this. I want you to support this position, not oppose it.’”
He says the teachers were stunned by the announcement from McRae.
“There was just silence. I got the feeling that people were shocked this was a thing.”
Staff were told the school dress code only allowed for small religious or cultural items such as crosses to be worn underneath the students’ uniforms and not to be visible. Hence, the headscarf would violate that rule.
Principal Heather McRae declined to give an interview despite repeated attempt by TRT World.
On the TRT World Facebook post, some users made the following points:
The school later released a statement a statement that said, “Our uniform policy is developed to help create a sense of oneness and family and is worn with pride by our students.”
“Like most school uniforms, regulations are in place to ensure the Diocesan identity is upheld, such as no wearing of jewellery or nail polish, skirt length, a requirement to tie back long hair and wear the School blazer outside school grounds, shoe styles and so on.”
Diocesan is a private Anglican school in one of the wealthiest suburbs in Auckland, New Zealand’s biggest city. Founded in 1903, it ranks as one of the top institutions in the country.
McRae has been the school’s principal since 2009, and is currently also the Chairperson of the Executive Board of the Independent Schools of New Zealand.
The office of the Anglican Bishop in Auckland and a current school board member, Rev. Ross Bay, says he would not comment on the school’s policies.
The teacher who spoke to TRT World says he is astounded at the timing of the announcement, especially in wake of last week’s terror attack.
Fifty people were killed and as many injured when an Australian gunman espousing anti-Muslim and white supremacist ideals went on a shooting spree inside two mosques in Christchurch.
It was the worst mass shooting in New Zealand history, and has left the country grief stricken and reeling.
“Inclusive is not a thing you do half, you’re either inclusive or you’re not,” the teacher told TRT World.
“Even a private institution should be bound by the basic rules of decency. You either respect people or you don’t.”
He says the student who first encountered the hijab policy was asked to read a poem she wrote about Islamophobia at a school assembly on Wednesday to commemorate the attack.
The poem was titled ‘Living beneath the veil’, and challenged stereotypes aimed at Muslim women in media coverage. One of the lines in the poem reads:
“There is no bigger bravery, than wearing a symbol of your faith, in a world of decay.”
A copy of the poem appears to have been published on the school’s website blog two days ago and has been shared on Facebook, but a link to the page has now been taken down.
The changes also come just two days before a call by some campaigners for a ‘National Scarf Day’, encouraging women across New Zealand to wear headscarves in public as a show of support for Muslim women.
The school also said it is taking part in the solidarity event, and inviting staff and students to wear the headscarf on Friday if they wish.