Belgian schools ban Muslim veil in classes

Veil ban affects 700 schools in Flanders, Brussels


Dutch-language public schools in Belgium will ban the wearing of Muslim veils in classes, school officials in the Flanders region announced Friday.

The ban affects 700 schools in the northern region of Flanders, including some in Brussels.

It follows protests after two schools in Antwerp this month joined other schools where the veil is already banned.

Responding to a complaint by a student at one of the schools, Belgium's highest administrative tribunal ruled on Tuesday that schools could not take such decisions on their own.

The tribunal will rule on the student's appeal next Tuesday -- prompting the community's education board to make public its unified stance on Friday.

Belgian schools have previously enjoyed autonomy in such decisions, with one third authorizing the wearing of Muslim veils, another forbidding them and the remainder giving no formal guidance.

The Flemish school board said the ban in communal schools would be introduced gradually to give time to those establishments which have not banned the veil to do so.

Schools in Flanders that are financed by other Belgian communities -- mostly Catholic schools run by municipalities -- are not bound by the order.

School authorities in the main Flemish town of Antwerp announced a ban on the veil from the start of the next academic year.

A similar debate is underway in Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia, and the Brussels capital region.