PM riled at Islamic dress row
Temple-based school refuses to budge
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered the Education Ministry Tuesday to settle a dispute over a ban on students wearing Islamic dress at a school in Pattani in the insurgency-plagued deep South.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he said a deputy education minister was told to hold a meeting to determine whether the clothing was considered appropriate to wear in class.
He said this issue should not be presented to the government to resolve.
"The issue is about rules and if the rules are not followed, the problem will never end," said Gen Prayut.
The dispute erupted at Anuban Pattani School in Muang district in May after some Muslim parents asked the school to allow their daughters to wear headscarves to school and let boys wear long trousers.
The request to wear Islamic dress goes against a school regulation that has been in place for over four decades. The school is located on the property of a Buddhist temple.
Some parents ignored this however and pressed on with their demands.
Their persistence led to the Education Ministry revising its rules in June by allowing students who attend schools situated on the grounds of a Buddhist temple to wear religious clothing as long as the school in question agrees.
The ministry clarified later that month that in the event of a dispute, the school would have the final say.
Anuban Pattani decided to stick to its guns and keep the prohibition on Islamic clothing during school hours in place, after which the situation escalated as some of the parents retaliated by sending their kids to class in banned headscarves.
Buddhist parents were inflamed. A group issued a statement saying their children would dress however they pleased and flout the school uniform rules until all students complied.
Since then about 70 Buddhist students have been attending classes in regular clothes rather than the designated uniform.
As the situation intensified, school director Prachak Chusri held a meeting on Aug 1 with Pirom Jinda, chief of the Pattani Primary Educational Service Area Office 1, as well as some of the parents.
They concluded that Buddhist students who wear ordinary clothes and Islamic students who don Islamic dress to class were both violating the school's rules.
Mr Pirom was assigned to talk with the Muslim parents and urge them to dress their children properly in line with the rules. If they complied, Buddhist students must do likewise, a source at the meeting said.
Until the problem is fully resolved, teachers were told not to admonish students for wearing ordinary clothes at school.
Any teachers found doing so will be reported to the local educational office for disciplinary action, according to the source.
Critics of the de facto burka ban say it is unreasonable to allow monastic landlords to govern what children wear at school when students follow different religions and come from very different backgrounds.