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Nursery assistant wins reprieve over veil sacking

A French creche assistant who was famously fired for refusing to remove her Islamic head-scarf had her dismissal annulled by France's highest appeals court on Tuesday. The court judged the sacking was "religious discrimination".

Nursery assistant wins reprieve over veil sacking
File photo: Peter Rowley

Fatima Afif, a nursery assistant sacked in 2008 by the ‘Baby Loup’ creche for refusing to remove her Muslim headscarf at work, won an appeal against her dismissal on Tuesday.

In delivering their verdict judges at Paris's 'Cour de cassation' – France's highest appeals court, said her firing "constituted discrimination based on religious convictions and must be declared invalid."

The privately-run daycare centre in the Yvelines suburb of Paris has rules requiring its staff to maintain “philosophical, political and denominational neutrality” at work.

However, the court found on Tuesday that because 'Baby Loup' is a private establishment, and it was not an "urgent professional necessity" that Afif remove her veil,  France's "principle of secularism does not apply."

The principle cannot be invoked to deny "employees of private companies that do not perform a public service… the protections guaranteed them under the work code," the appeals court ruled.

The nursery was also ordered to pay €2,500 in compensation to their former employee, according to Le Parisien newspaper.

The case however is not yet concluded and will be re-heard before a lower court of appeal in Paris at a later date.

Michel Henry, a lawyer for Afif had previously argued that the crèche’s internal rules should be trumped by “the exercise of a fundamental freedom, the freedom of religion,” he was quoted as saying by French television TF1 on Tuesday.

Before Tuesday's ruling, Afif had had her appeal against the dismissal rejected on two occasions.

In 2010 a labour relations board found that her sacking was justified by “blatant and repeated insubordination.”

An appeals court in 2011 agreed, stating that young children in the crèche “should not be confronted by ostentatious displays of religious affiliation.”

The wearing of religious symbols or clothing in public (state-run) schools has been illegal in France since 2004.

Although ‘Baby Loup’ is a private establishment, and despite having an overwhelmingly Muslim clientele, one of its lawyers, Richard Malka, had argued it has the right to deem itself a “secular business". He believes Afif’s religious freedom should not be considered more important than the culture of the crèche.

Since the case emerged in 2008, it has attracted the attention of both religious freedom advocates, and defenders of France’s tradition of strict secularism (known as ‘laïcité’), such as current Interior Minister and Socialist deputy Manuel Valls, who had publicly supported the crèche.

On Tuesday Valls told France's National Assembly he regretted the court's ruling, claiming that it "calls into doubt the principle of secularism," according to TF1.

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SCHOOLS

‘Section internationales’: How do France’s bilingual secondary schools work?

For foreign parents in France looking at secondary school options for their children one option to consider is the bilingual 'international sections' in certain state schools. But how do they work?

'Section internationales': How do France's bilingual secondary schools work?

What is an ‘international section’

Essentially international sections in French secondary schools allow students to learn a modern foreign language, such as English or German in much more depth than a standard state secondary. These sections also facilitate the integration of foreign students into the French school system.

There are about 200 ‘International’ establishments (primary schools, colleges and high schools) around France offering international sections in 16 languages.

Most are state run, so for many foreign families they are a much cheaper alternative to private schools, though it should be noted that some of the international sections are fee-paying.

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Even state establishments can charge for enrolment into their international sections. Fees are usually in the region of €1,000 to €2,000 per year (although that’s still cheap compared to somewhere like the American school of Paris which charges between €20,000 and €35,000 a year)

American and British sections are particularly popular – and, as a result are usually the most expensive, while less-popular German sections are less costly. 

Why do they exist?

These sections are ideal for the children of immigrant families, as well as those where one parent is of foreign origin. Syllabuses are set up and developed by French educational authorities and those of the partner country.

In addition to lessons dedicated to modern languages, students benefit from lessons in another subject given in a foreign language. The international sections promote the discovery of the culture and civilisation of the countries associated with the section.

Top tips for raising a bilingual child in France

What languages are available?

According to the government website, 19 languages are available. But that’s not strictly accurate as it then lists American, British and Australian as separate ‘languages’, along with Portuguese and Brazilian. It’s more accurate to say these establishments offer education in 16 languages.

It’s more accurate to say that there are 19 “sections”, dedicated to learning with a linguistic and cultural education slant in favour of the following nations/languages:

American, Arabic, Australian, Brazilian, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Franco-Moroccan, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, Russian.

In total, there are two Australian schools, 20 American ones, over 50 British schools – most in Paris and the Ile-de-France (Versailles is very popular)

So, what’s studied – and what qualifications do you get?

As well as usual collège-level classes in core subjects, such as maths, history and the sciences, students have four hours of classes in the language, including literary studies, of their choice.

From troisième (age 14), an additional two hours of classes per week cover that country’s history and geography and moral and civic education – the latter is replaced by maths for those studying in Chinese sections.

They can obtain the diplôme national du brevet with the mention “série collège, option internationale”. The dedicated brevet includes two specific tests: history-geography and foreign language.

At lycée, students study four hours of foreign literature per week, as well as two hours of history-geography in the language of the section (maths for the Chinese section) as well as two hours of French as they study towards an OIB (option internationale du bac), often at the same time as a standard French bac.

How to enrol

The first step is to contact the collège you wish your child to attend. This should take place no later than January before the September rentree you want your child to go to the collège.

If you live in France, and your child is attending an école primaire or élémentaire, you should do this in the January of the year they would move up to collège.

Be aware, that some schools require potential students to pass a language test – written and oral – before they can enter an international section. A child wishing to enter sixth grade must be able to read books of the level of Harry Potter in English, to enter the international school of Sèvres’ British section, while another has said that only 20 percent of candidates achieve the grade that would allow them entry into an international section.

Find a school

You will find sections internationales de collège at educational academies across the country. For a full list, with contact details, click here.

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