Muslim sisters prevented from entering class for wearing pants with uniform at Cape school

January 20, 2023

A Cape family were left disheartened on the first day of school, after their daughters were prevented from entering their classrooms for wearing pants with their school dresses. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency

A Cape family were left disheartened on the first day of school, after their daughters were prevented from entering their classrooms for wearing pants with their school dresses. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency

Cape Town – Two Muslim sisters were initially prevented from entering their classrooms on the first day at their new school, Goodwood Park Primary School, for not complying with the dress code.

Despite arriving as early as 7.30am, the girls, aged 9 and 12, were only able to take their seats in their classrooms after 9am on Wednesday.

The siblings had worn trousers underneath their dresses, made of the same material as the dresses, as they had done at their former schools, to ensure their legs were concealed and complying with Islamic dress.

Their mother, Nabeweyah Keraan, said her daughters were warmly welcomed at the school gates and were told to go to the office to hand over their transfer letters before they could be escorted to their new classrooms.

“I went there and as soon as the admissions secretary saw us, she said there’s no way they’re going to come into the school like that, they need to undress, and she pointed into the building and said ‘you need to go and undress them’. And I said ‘I’m not going to undress them’,” she said.

Keraan said she was told to remove the children’s trousers and buy stockings at the nearest shop and that the “school and School Governing Body (SGB) were “proud of their uniform”.

“I said I’m just as proud of the uniform, that’s why I made an effort to make sure that the material of the pants is exactly the material of the dress,” she said.

Nabeweyah said the matter was raised with the SGB last year, but the response received did not allow for dialogue. The SGB said concessions for Muslim students had already been made, allowing head scarves/burqas as well as stockings. The family, however, argued that the stockings were not adequate enough.

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“I’m just very anxious, all tied up in knots. I’m worried for them because instead of them feeling calm and applying themselves, especially being in a new school, to being educated, they now have to worry about ‘am I going to be judged because of what I look like … what I wear?’ It’s a different kind of worry that they shouldn’t be worried about at their age.”

On meeting with a member of the SGB on Wednesday morning, the mother was informed that her daughters would be allowed to wear the trousers until the end of month, but would need to switch to stockings on February 1.

They could then write to the SGB again to have the matter looked into once more.

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In an email sent to the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) while the incident was taking place, Keraan said they requested permission for religious reasons but had not been given an opportunity to explain their stance to the principal.

Their father, Moulana Yunus Keraan, who is a religious leader, said the girls were always given an opportunity to dress in a manner that was “Islamically appropriate”, and that it had never been an issue at any of the southern suburbs schools they had previously attended.

“We went through the Code of Conduct and we saw the dress code and we did raise it with them and we asked them all, (who) can we address this with, etc.

“We couldn’t for the last six months get an appointment till today to see the principal and yesterday (Wednesday), when I asked for an appointment again, they said it’s useless seeing the principal because the SGB has the full say with what happens with dress codes and so on.

“Our kids were traumatised this morning (Thursday). Both my girls were crying, one saying her stomach was hurting, the other one didn’t want to get dressed because they have PT (physical training) also and they are afraid now, can they go in their tracksuits or must they go in their clothes?” he said.

The family has been told that many Muslims have applied for the same concession but were unsuccessful.

They have a granddaughter at the same school, who also wears pants with her uniform, but she was allowed to go to her classroom as she was fetched by a teacher.

A member of the SGB was contacted and said the matter was receiving its full attention and it was engaging all the parties involved.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the SGB was scheduled to discuss the matter at its first meeting on January 31.

Al Jama-ah Party leader Ganief Hendricks confirmed that the party would be laying a police complaint against the admissions officer, principal and SGB chairperson.


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