“Learning needs open communication”

Discussion about full-face veils at Hamburg schools © Lisa-S (shutterstock)

Hamburg may not prohibit a full-face veil at schools under the current school law. This is the conclusion of the higher administrative court of the Hanseatic city. The school senator wants to change therefore now the law.

Following a ruling by the Hamburg Higher Administrative Court (OVG) against a ban on the niqab at a Hamburg vocational school, Schools Senator Ties Rabe (SPD) has announced a swift amendment to the Schools Act. "We will not tolerate students hiding their faces," he said Monday. The OVG had previously ruled that there was no legal basis for a niqab ban in Hamburg's current school law.

Rabe said, "Good schools and good teaching are only possible when all students, teachers show their face."Learning needs the open communication. For this it is "indispensable that those involved can look each other in the face".

It is not to be tolerated, he said, that pupils hide their faces behind a cloth. "We will now quickly amend the school law so that such a full-face veil is unambiguously prohibited," emphasized the school senator. "We regret that the court did not follow our legal catch and lifted the ban on veils."

School law not suitable as basis

With its decision on Monday, the OVG rejected an appeal by the Hamburg school authority against the decision of the lower court (AZ: 1 Bs 6/20). The administrative court had upheld the complaint of a mother who wanted to send her 16-year-old daughter fully veiled to the vocational school, contrary to the teaching ban of the authority.

The school authorities had ordered the mother to ensure that her daughter showed her face in class. The school authority was invoking a provision in the Education Act that makes parents responsible for their child's participation in class, the OVG explained. Here, however, it could not be amed across the board that a female pupil wearing a niqab would not be allowed to take part in lessons.

"Freedom of faith protected without reservation"

According to the current legal situation, the school authorities are also not allowed to require the student herself to refrain from wearing a face covering while attending school. The court stated that the pupil was entitled to "unconditionally protected freedom of belief" and that interference with this fundamental right required a "sufficiently specific legal basis". The Hamburg School Act currently does not provide for such a ban.

Women's rights organization Terre des Femmes criticized the court decision and welcomed Rabe's initiative to consider changing the law. Tolerating the full-face veil on a 16-year-old schoolgirl was "in many respects a fatal concession to patriarchal power structures," the organization explained in Berlin.

"Veiling is an expression of sexism"

Federal executive Christa Stolle said the veil violates the human dignity of women and is an expression of sexism. In particular public educational facilities would have to remain safe and neutral places of the free development and development possibility for girls and boys.

Hamburg's Second Mayor Katharina Fegebank (Greens) also called burqas and niqabs "symbols of oppression" after the OVG ruling. Successful teaching requires "good communication at eye level". For it it is important to see the face of the other one, said the mayor candidate of the Greens with the citizen choice on 23. February. With a full veil this is not possible – "therefore we reject it".

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Christina Cherry
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