Students wait for the opening of the doors of the Maurice Ravel high school in Paris, France, 04 September 2023. EPA-EFE/TERESA SUAREZ


Paris headmaster resigns after death threats for asking student to remove her veil


A Paris headmaster resigned on March 26, after receiving death threats for asking a student to remove her veil before taking an exam.

On March 1, staff at Maurice-Ravel High School asked a 19-year-old student to remove a veil she had put on in the courtyard, in line with school regulations.

French law has prohibited students or teachers from wearing ‘ostentatious’ religious symbols in schools, since 2004.

Teaching staff also said they needed the student to remove her veil so they could check her identity, before the examination.

The student refused to remove her face veil, after which school staff alerted the headteacher about the issue.

During a “tense” exchange, the student says she was “violently slapped on the arm”, as she told Le Parisien newspaper.

After this, she filed a formal complaint at the local police station.

Police investigated the complaint but did not issue her with any days of incapacity for work.

The incident caused some students at the school to stage a protest, leading classes to be cancelled for the day.

Protestors blocked the school entrance with rubbish bins and called for a student strike.

Since March 1, there have been several death threats against the principal on social media, as well as threats to attack the school.

The Paris prosecutor’s office opened an investigation for cyberbullying. “Since these events, death threats against the principal have been observed online. The national unit for combating online hate speech has taken up this matter,” it explained.

The principal also filed a complaint for “an act of intimidation against a person participating in the performance of a public service mission in order to obtain an exemption from the rules governing this service.”

But on March 26, the principal chose to resign.

The school’s governing body announced the news to parents, students, teachers, and members of the board of directors. Rather than citing “security reasons” as the cause, it opted for “personal reasons”.

A 26-year-old man has already been arrested after making online threats to kill the principal. He is scheduled to stand trial April 23.

French schools are seen as a battleground, often literally, between the French secular state and religious fundamentalists. Teachers, on the frontline, have increasingly fallen victim to attacks.

In October 2020, history and geography teacher Samuel Paty was stabbed to death and beheaded by an 18-year-old Russian citizen of Chechen origin with a refugee status.

One of Paty’s students said that in a class on freedom of expression, he had shown his students Charlie Hebdo‘s 2012 cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

The student was herself absent from the class that day.

Abdoullakh Anzorov, who used a cleaver to kill and behead the teacher, was shot dead by police shortly afterward.