Sun, Oct 15, 2006 - Page 1 News List

UK teaching assistant suspended over wearing veil

AFP , LONDON

A Muslim teaching assistant at a British junior school has been suspended after refusing to remove her veil in class, a newspaper reported on Friday.

Aishah Azmi, 24, was asked to remove her veil, which reveals only her eyes, after pupils struggled to understand English lessons because they could not see her lips move, the Daily Mirror said.

Azmi is a bilingual support worker at Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, Yorkshire, northern England, where most of the seven-to-11-year-old pupils are of Pakistani or Indian origin.

Her suspension came days after former British foreign secretary and current Cabinet minister Jack Straw provoked controversy by revealing that he asked Muslim women visiting his constituency surgery to remove their veils.

Straw held his first constituency surgery in Blackburn, north-west England, on Friday since his controversial comments and it passed without incident.

A spokesman for the Kirklees Council, the school's local administrative body, confirmed that Azmi's case had gone to an employment tribunal and that she would remain suspended until it had reached a verdict.

Many children at the school are still learning to speak English and have Panjabi, Gujarati and Urdu as their first languages, according to a report by Ofsted, Britain's education regulator, in February.

The Daily Mirror said that Azmi was told she could wear the veil in the school's corridors and staff room but had been asked to remove it while teaching to facilitate better face-to-face communication with students.

The area's lawmaker, Labour's Shahid Malik, a Muslim himself, said he thought that the request to remove the veil was "utterly reasonable."

"All right-minded people, both Muslim and non-Muslim alike, will agree that in asking a classroom assistant not to wear a veil whilst in contact with children because it hinders their learning is perfectly acceptable and just common sense," he said.

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