Seven Muslim families are prepared to take Jeppe Girls’ High School and the education department to court over alleged discrimination, claiming their daughters have been prevented from expressing their freedom of religion alongside their school spirit.
The school’s policy on hijab (headscarves) has been debated - particularly on social media - for several months, with Jeppe Girls’ allegedly banning learners from wearing them with the official school blazer or school colours.
However, the young women are given the option to wear their headscarves with a black cloak, which would cover up their uniforms. But in the past week and a half, seven learners at the school were told they would have to attend a disciplinary hearing at the school today for “repeated dress code infringements” and “disregard for educator’s instruction”.
The Saturday Star has learnt that since the issuing of the disciplinary notices, the pro bono department at law firm Cliffe Dekker Hoffmeyr has now become involved, representing each of the seven learners in a bid to declare the disciplinary hearings unlawful.
In a series of urgent letters written on Thursday to, among others, Gauteng Education MEC, Panyaza Lesufi, the school’s principal and the Jeppe school governing body (SGB), the firm has said that the disciplinary proceedings were discriminatory and the school’s code of conduct is unconstitutional.
Head of the firm’s pro bono department Jacquie Cassette and senior associate Tricia Erasmus argue in their letters that even the notice of the hearings is defective.
They suggest the notice failed to detail the alleged offences, what punishment the learners face and that they failed to give the learners sufficient time to prepare for the hearings.
However, more importantly, they allege the hearings are unlawful as they “flow from a code of conduct which is unconstitutional and unlawful in so far as it fails to accommodate affected learners who wish to follow the dictates of their religion without, at the same time, being denied their rights to equality, dignity, equal respect and to be identified with the school”.
The letter implies that in recent months, the Gauteng Department of Education expressly instructed the school’s SGB to allow the affected learners to wear a hijab with their uniform until the issue - namely the school’s code of conduct and whether it should be changed - was resolved.
“The reasonable conclusion is that there are certain individuals at the school who seek to harass the learners knowing full well that a dispute exists as to the code of conduct itself,” the letter reads.
Speaking to the Saturday Star yesterday, Cassette said the school’s code of conduct contributed to “othering” the Muslim learners at the school, and that her clients were trying to find a way to allow learners to express their religion and their love of the school.
“Our clients are still willing to co-operate to find an amicable way forward with the school to revise the code of conduct,” she said.
Cassette added that this morning she would be attending the hearing to have them stopped or postponed, but that if the school did decide to continue with them, she and her clients would have no choice but to approach the courts for assistance.
However, just before 5pm, the firm was informed that the disciplinary hearing had been postponed.
Spokesperson Steve Mabona said the department was investigating.
Yesterday, social activist Yusuf Abramjee tweeted copies of the disciplinary notice, asking why the young women were being punished for “covering their hair”.
Lesufi responded, calling on his team to investigate.
In June, Abramjee was calling for the school’s code of conduct to be altered as he believed it was “unconstitutional”.
The Saturday Star