The other day I wrote about a young Muslim woman in Norway who wears a niqab – a veil that covers everything except the eyes – and who's busy these days giving talks at Norwegian schools about her religion and her choice of outerwear.
Now, just across the border in Sweden, that country's version of the Department of Education, which is called Skolverket (and which in English labels itself the Swedish National Agency for Education), has sent down a ruling about the role of niqab in Swedish schools. This ruling is a response to new legislation as well as to a decision by Sweden's Discrimination Ombudsman, which in turn came in response to a complaint by an adult student in Stockholm who cried prejudice a couple of years back when she was told to take off her niqab in class.
Skolverket's decision, interestingly, has been represented by the Swedish media in different ways – indeed, in two more or less antithetical ways. On the one hand, Dagbladet begins its report as follows: "Students' right to wear veils in schools has long been a hot question. Now Skolverket has ruled that full-covering veils may be forbidden in certain situations." Dagbladet goes on to quote Skolverket's guidelines to the effect that niqab can be banned in lab or shop classes, in which there may be safety issues, or when the niqab "significantly impedes the interaction between teachers and students." Skolverket leaves it up to teachers to decide when there's a problem.