Quebec elementary school teacher reassigned from class over hijab due to Bill 21

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WATCH: Quebec teacher removed from classroom over hijab – Dec 9, 2021

An elementary school teacher in western Quebec has been reassigned from her classroom because her hijab contravenes the province’s Bill 21 law forbidding teachers from wearing religious symbols.

Parents at Chelsea Elementary School say they found out in a letter last week the teacher was being moved to a different job, and later some discovered it was due to her hijab, confirmed by the teacher in an interview with a local newspaper.

Amanda DeGrace, a parent who sends her three children to the school, says supporters have been hanging green ribbons on a fence in support of the teacher and are organizing a letter-writing campaign urging parents to denounce the situation.

Signs and ribbons are seen on a fence outside an elementary school protesting Quebec Bill 21 and the absence of a teacher, Thursday, Dec. 9, 2021 in Chelsea, Quebec. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

“It was shocking as a parent to see. We want more inclusion and diversity, and to see this come into effect was extremely devastating,” DeGrace told Global News.

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The secularism law, known as Bill 21, was passed in June 2019 and bans the wearing of religious symbols such as hijabs, kippas and turbans by teachers and other government employees deemed to be in positions of authority.

READ MORE: Quebec court upholds most of province’s secularism law, exempts English school boards

In a statement, the Western Quebec School Board, which has previously come out firmly against Bill 21, declined to comment specifically due to confidentiality surrounding human resources issues, but confirmed the teacher was removed from her position because her appearance “does not fall within the parameters of Law 21.”

“Like all school boards and service centres, [we] must comply with provincial laws that regulate employment in the public sector,” a statement from the school board said.

“Our stance on Bill 21 has not changed, the Western Quebec School Board strongly opposes the religious symbols legislation.”

“It’s hard to explain to our daughter why a law like this even exists,” said another parent, Mat Schatkowsky, whose child was one of the teacher’s students.

Schatkowsky told Global News the teacher became his daughter’s homeroom teacher in October and was very engaged, with a keen interest in promoting literacy in children.

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“It’s disappointing and sad, but not surprising given the bill,” he said.

Political reaction

Several politicians reacted to the story on Thursday. Member of Parliament Kyle Seeback denounced the measure, calling it a disgraceful law that should be opposed in court.

“I cannot in good conscience keep silent on this anymore. This is an absolute disgrace. It’s time politicians stoop up for what’s right. Bill 21 has to be opposed. In court, in the house of commons and in the streets.

“It’s cowardly,” said Crown-Indigenous Relations Minister Marc Miller, who is also a Montreal-area MP. “This type of discrimination isn’t reflective of the Quebec society I want to live in.”

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NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, who has previously shared stories of hatred he faced for wearing a turban, also slammed the school board’s decision.

“There are no concerns about her capacity and ability to teach, no concerns about whether she’s providing good education to kids, simply because of the way she looked and the way she dressed, she is no longer able to teach those kids,” he said.

“On a personal note, I know what that’s like — to feel like you don’t belong because of the way you look, and to not be able to do what you love because of the way you look. That’s what’s happening right now, and why this bill is so wrong.”

Christopher Skeete, parliamentary assistant to the minister responsible for the fight against racism at Quebec’s National Assembly, said in response to the backlash that “we’re proud to say that we live in a secular society here in Quebec.”

“[The measure] is something Quebecers expected [from] us and wanted us to do and what we were elected to deliver upon,” he said.
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— with files from The Canadian Press and Rachel Gilmore, Global News

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