Monday, January 31, 2011

Found: Religious tolerance on the playground

About a month ago, I posted about a letter I received from my daughter's school. A boy had been found with a weapon-like religious emblem. At first, the principal of the school inspected the emblem, called a kirpan, found it to be dull, and gave it back to the elementary student and his parents. However, another parent complained; there is a zero tolerance policy for weapons, including anything that looks like a weapon. The family, members of a large community of Sikhs in my town, volunteered to not let their son carry the emblem while the matter was resolved.

In the meantime, this caused quite an uproar in the community -- on both sides of the issue. My town has a large community of Indians, including a significant number of Sikhs, a religious minority in India. All baptised Sikhs are required to carry a kirpan -- usually a small, dull, knife-like emblem -- as part of their religious faith. The kirpan represents their dedication to defend the defenseless.  On one side of the issue, we had a religious minority wanting their children to be able to wear an important -- required -- emblem of their faith.  On the other side of the issue, violence in schools is a hot-button issue, and parents do not like anything that could be used as a weapon on school campuses.

Reading between the lines of the articles posted in the newspaper, the School Board clearly wanted to accommodate the Sikh community and allow kirpans in school. At the same time, they had to find legal grounds so that they could have strong grounds for the exception to their "zero tolerance" policies.

In stride, the Sikh community hosted a few events to help the larger community understand more about the Sikh religion and traditions.

Just last week, parents received a follow-up letter stating that the policy had been revised, and kirpans were now allowed in the schools, but there were restrictions. The kirpans had to be small (2 1/4 inches), dull, sewn into a sheath, and not visible (covered by clothing). There will be no random searches for kirpans, but students who violate the policy will not be able to wear one in the future.

I have to say -- I was quite impressed with the balanced and sane approach taken by our School Board. They took a potentially volatile situation, and made rational decisions that weighed both students' safety and religious freedoms.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had more situations where common sense prevailed over fear and irrationality?

With that, I leave you with the picture of my daughters' schoolmate from her Montessori preschool winter program -- a Sikh boy dressed as Santa Claus.


Shell said...

I'm impressed- it seems like they really put a lot of thought into this!

Booyah's Momma said...

On one hand, it's sad that our schools are at such a place where we even have to think about zero tolerance policies at such a young age. What a different world we live in!

But how refreshing that they came to a rational solution that took both sides into account. Very refreshing.

Billy Rhythm said...

How great to know there's a school out there that chooses to "act" rather than just "re-act."

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