“Teaching is communication, it is about being able to look each other in the eye and in the face and to be able to communicate with each other. In this context I argue that it is extremely inappropriate to allow clothing that covers the face,” Björklund, speaking in his capacity as party leader, told Swedish Radio.
Swedish law is currently unclear on the issue of schools’ and universities’ rights to prevent students from wearing face veils such as niqabs or burquas. An adult education college in Stockholm was last year reported to the Discrimination Ombudsman after it banned a student from wearing a veil in class. The case is still pending.
“I want Sweden’s principals to have easily interpreted laws – you shouldn’t have to go to court in order to find out what the law is,” Björklund said.
The National Agency for Education (Skolverket) issued guidance in 2003 in which it said that a headteacher could ban a teacher or pupil from wearing a face veil if it was having a negative effect on pupils’ education.
Ann-Charlotte Eriksson, deputy chairwoman of the Swedish Teachers’ Union (Lärarförbundet), welcomed the Liberals’ approach, which she said would give teachers clear guidance:
“It has to be clear what a principal is allowed to do. This is something we have sought,” she said.
Eriksson underlined that any decision on banning face veils must be taken following a dialogue between teachers, families and pupils.
“If this is to be successful and not create polarization in society, I believe in creating dialogue. Schools should never be felt to be harassing people. We must therefore explain why why take decisions, what the purpose is and what solutions one can find,” Eriksson said.
One problem that Eriksson identified with students who cover their faces is that teachers cannot identify pupils turning up for exams.
“Teachers need to be sure that they are grading the right pupil,” she said.