By Alagie Manneh
The Ministry of Basic and Secondary School Education said yesterday that it will seek for an out-of-court settlement of the suit filed by seven students against five schools for banning veil wearing.
The students, including minors, are demanding a D20M compensation for the emotional distress and embarrassment they said they faced after their schools forced them to remove their veils whilst at school.
They also want a high court order declaring that denying them to wear veils in school is unconstitutional and a violation of their fundamental human rights.
But a senior official at MOBSE in an interview with The Standard said the issue should be settled out of court.
“As a concerned ministry, we find it appropriate to call the schools concerned and the students involved and listen to their stories and see how best we can address the issue in-house without having to resort to the courts,” Ebrima Sisawo, Permanent Secretary at MoBSE said. “That will be better for all the parties involved,” he added.
He continued: “Both the schools and the students are under the purview of our ministry so we will listen to their stories and try to come up with a justifiable decision that will guarantee the rights of the people involved.”
PS Sisawo said the ministry has no clear-cut policies as far as the issue of veil wearing at schools is concerned, there are provisions in the constitution that all schools should rely on in matters like this.
“I think we have to be conscious of the fact that the constitution is the supreme law of this country. I want to appeal to the schools involved to make reference to the constitution. This is why we want to call all of them and draw their attention to the supreme law of the land. Example as in this case, Section 25 (1C) of the constitution, talks about the right to not only practice your religion, but also to profess it. There is also Section 32 which gives right to enjoy, profess, maintain and even promote one’s religion as long as those rights do not infringe on others’ rights. The constitution also states that all are equal in the eyes of the law and that no one should be discriminated. So, I think these provisions can help guide us build regulations since we do not have definitive regulations in place on the matter yet”, PS Sisawo said.
Moving forward, he said the ministry will work to set out policies and regulations surrounding the issue of veil wearing at schools.
Asked what next if the ministry’s out-of-court initiative fails, the PS replied: “We hope it doesn’t fail since both parties are under our purview. We have already called the schools involved to an emergency meeting scheduled for Wednesday, today. You know the students involved are not also necessarily looking for money. They just want justice to be given and if that can be guaranteed, I don’t think they will want to pursue the matter in the courts.”
The schools facing the D20M suit are St Therese’s Upper Basic School, Gambia Senior Secondary School, Grace Bilingual School, St Peter’s Senior Secondary School, and Rev JC Faye Memorial School.