A teacher at an elementary school in Chelsea, Que., Says she was told she could no longer teach in the classroom because she wears a hijab, which is Quebec law under Bill 21.
After working for several months as a substitute teacher at the Western Quebec School Board, Fatemeh Anvari says she was asked to apply for a more permanent teaching position in a grade 3 class at Chelsea Elementary School.
Anvari started this job earlier this fall, but after only a month she says the school principal told her she had to move outside the classroom because she is wearing a hijab.
The principal told him that the decision was made after a discussion with the human resources department of the school board.
âHonestly, at that point, it was just a shock. It was very difficult to deal with,â Anvari told CBC.
WATCH | Teacher pulled from class because of hijab says law sends troubling message to children
Province appealed exemption
Under a fairly recent Quebec law, also known as Bill 21, certain public servants in positions of authority, including teachers, cannot wear religious symbols at work.
A recent ruling by the Quebec Court of Appeal, the highest court in the province, rejected a request by the English Montreal School Board to maintain an exemption for English school boards from the law.
A Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that English-language school boards should be exempt from the law, saying that boards’ desire to foster diversity by choosing who they hire is protected by rights to education in the language of the minority in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. But the government of Quebec quickly appealed against this exemption, which means that it cannot be applied until the court of appeal has heard the case.
Meanwhile, there are several court challenges against the law, which could go on for years and eventually end up in the Supreme Court.
Anvari says the hijab is now part of her identity.
“Yes, I am a Muslim, but for me, [the hijab] holds other meanings of who I am and how I choose to represent myself as a strong person in a world that maybe doesn’t want me to be myself, âshe said.
“But it’s still a religious symbol at the end of the day, which is why it’s in conflict with the law.”
WATCH | âIt’s discriminationâ: parents are unhappy with the reassignment of a Quebec teacher because of Bill 21:
Teacher, parents blame the law, not the school
Neither Anvari nor the parents who spoke to CBC blame the school, which they say fosters a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere. Instead, parents say the law, Bill 21, should never have been passed.
“I want [the government] to see what it’s like for an eight-year-old to lose their teacher to something like this, âsaid Kirsten Taylor-Bosman, whose daughter attended classes withâ Ms. Fatemeh, âas the call the students.
Taylor-Bosman said she was initially surprised when she received a letter from the school principal stating that Anvari would be leaving after just a month, but it quickly turned into shock and angry once she found out why.
âIt was just awful, really upsetting,â she said. “These are not the values ââthat we teach our children. So it is very difficult to explain that to our children.”
For confidentiality reasons, the Western Quebec School Board has not confirmed why the teacher was reassigned. The commission declared, like all school boards in Quebec, that it must comply with the laws of the province, including Law 21.
âIn the English-speaking community, we are not in favor of this bill. We find it discriminatory, but as citizens of the province of Quebec, we must obey the law and we will, âsaid Interim Chairman of the Board of Directors Wayne Daly.
We are not in favor of this bill. We find this discriminatory.– Wayne Daly, Western Quebec School Board
Heidi Yetman, president of the teachers’ union that represents Anvari, said her union has always been against the bill, especially since it unfairly targets women.
“It’s really sad because it puts like a gray cloud over this province,” she said. “It’s very sad to hear that there are students who have loved this teacher since the fall and now find themselves without a teacher.”
Taylor-Bosman wants the Quebec government to explain its opposition to diversity and this case of âdiscriminationâ.
WATCH | Western Quebec School Board on the reassignment of a teacher who wears the hijab:
Ironically, Anvari continues to work at the school on a student literacy project aimed at inclusion and diversity awareness, although she acknowledges that this is still an opportunity to education.
“[It’s important] to educate and raise awareness on these topics so that children are well aware of what is happening around them, âshe said.
“I think it was a great way to deal with the situation by the school and the school board.”
“Not a story just about me”
A growing assortment of green ribbons – green is Anvari’s favorite color – were seen tied to the chain link fence outside the school this week, where there is a sign asking people to tie a ribbon to oppose Bill 21.
The school community rallied around the teacher and organized a letter writing campaign to the school board, to the Premier of Quebec FranÃ§ois Legault and to CAQ MP Robert BussiÃ¨re, who represents the region.
I think [the support] just shows that kids think beyond all those labels. They only think about love.– Fatemeh Anvari, Teacher
A demonstration was also scheduled for Sunday.
Anvari said she saw the maps, designs and ribbons and knew the local community was behind her, and she hopes the government will take note of what children may inadvertently learn from the bill. 21.
âIt’s not a story just about me. I think it’s a story about humans and how we live with each other and just to accept any difference, whatever it is: race , religion, gender identity, cultural origin, “she said. noted.
“I think [the support] just shows that kids think beyond all those labels. They just think of love and they think of compassion and that gives me so much hope. “
WATCH | How the Quebec law on religious symbols changed the lives of three teachers: