There will be one less teacher wearing a religious symbol in Montreal schools next year. Haniyfa Scott, who wears a hijab, is retiring after her more than 40-year career.
“I don’t think it’s really hit me yet,” said Scott.
The kindergarten teacher is the only staff member at Carlyle Elementary School who wears a religious symbol. Scott, who is Muslim, was allowed to keep her job because of the grandfather clause included in the Quebec law known as Bill 21.
The legislation does not allow certain public sector employees to wear religious symbols while on the job, meaning Scott is one of the last teachers students will see wearing a religious symbol.
“I don’t see how me being a teacher with my hijab is going to make any difference to anybody. And I don’t know why the government is so steadfast against it,” she said.
The school in the Town of Mount Royal and the English Montreal School Board held a ceremony for Scott on the last day of school, Thursday. Staff and students celebrated her struggle and fight against Quebec’s religious neutrality law.
“Students actually gain from having a teacher that is that is different from them. They learn about diversity. They learn that there are different people who have different beliefs, who have different customs,” said EMSB Chairman Joe Ortona.
Scott says sheltering children from various members of society is “not education.”
“What view are they going to have if they’re not exposed to any and everything that’s in this world?” she questioned.
Religious symbols are prominent at Carlyle with students who wear turbans and kippahs. This type of representation matters for grade 5 student Raveen Singh, who wears a turban.
“It makes me feel good because I feel like there are other people like me in this school,” he told Global News.
Singh wants to become a math teacher, something the secularism law would not allow while wearing a turban. He says after listening to Scott encourage students to follow their dreams, he is still going to try.
“You shouldn’t be scared of your passion. You should do what is best for you,” he said.
Even though she’s come to the end of her career, Scott vows to keep fighting for future teachers like Singh.
“I will continue. It’s not in me to stop,” she said.
The EMSB lawsuit against Bill 21 is currently in Quebec’s court of appeal.