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French education minister calls for vigilance on secular rules in schools

Education secretary Jean-Michel Blanquer has urged teachers to report any incidents where they believe French laws on secularism in schools have been broken.
Education secretary Jean-Michel Blanquer has urged teachers to report any incidents where they believe French laws on secularism in schools have been broken. AFP
2 min

French Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer has promised to back teachers, pupils and parents who expose breaches of the country's law on secularism in schools, as he reported figures on infringements in the past year.  

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Blanquer made his promise on Tuesday during a meeting in Paris with administrators of the guidelines in the country's schools and colleges.

"Let no one, neither a teacher, nor a headmaster, a pupil or a parent feel alone, isolated, without a solution when a violation of secularism occurs,” Blanquer said.

Verbal attacks

His comments come after his department revealed 935 infringements of the law between September 2019 and March 2020. 

Colleges for 11-15-year-olds accounted for 45 percent of incidents. Primary schools accounted for 37 percent.  

More than 40 percent of violations were in the form of insults or verbal attacks of a religious nature, with the wearing of religious symbols, such as a crucifix, a veil or a turban, making up 15 percent

Bill to fight 'separatism'

"We have sent a message,” said Blanquer. “We are not putting problems under the carpet, on the contrary, we are asking that every violation of secularism be reported and that a proportionate response be given.”

His report comes on the heels of a proposed law to fight "Islamist separatism", announced by French President Emmanuel Macron, who has vowed to defend the country's secular values. 

Since 1905, a law has enforced the separation of church and state meaning schools and colleges are barred from endorsing or promoting any religious beliefs.

Parents also in violation

According to the Educatino Ministry's figures, nearly three in five infringements of the laws on secularism were carried out by students. One in five incidents was attributed to parents of students, with some teachers also found responsible. 

More than half of the reported infringements occurred in six regions - Créteil and Versailles - on the outskirts of Paris as well as Normandy, in northern France as well as Grenoble, Toulouse and Nice.

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