Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center (EMC) represents the interests of students of a public school in village Mokhe (Adigen municipality) before the Ministry of Education and Science, as well as the Public Defender, on the grounds of the law on elimination of all forms of discrimination. EMC disputes the facts of possible oppression and discrimination of Muslim students on religious grounds by the school director.
After a public school director in Mokhe instructed the Muslim students to take off their headscarves, EMC addressed the Public Defender and the Ministry of Education and Science with a comprehensive statement. EMC demanded them to research the case, to identify possible disciplinary transgression/discriminatory treatment, and to restore violated rights, in addition to organizing special positive events keeping in mind the stressful conditions that had been created inside the school.
Material related to the case, including explanations of Teona Beridze and other students, shows that on December 22, 2016, 12th grade student of Mokhe public school, 18-year-old Teona Beridze was taken outside a lesson by a class supervisor, who insisted that the director, Natia Rekhviashvili would not confirm her acceptance to the school, if she did not take off her headscarf. Despite inexistence of any grounds for such a demand in school regulations, the director, similarly to the supervisor, directly demanded Teona Beridze in private communication to take off her headscarf, and explained that everyone had to abide to school regulations.
On December 26-27, other Muslim students of the school expressed their solidarity towards Teona Beridze, and as a protest, refused to attend lessons. Meanwhile, simultaneously with the protests and public discussions, the school director, instead of solving the issue, became a resisting side. Moreover, according to the students, the tendency to use her own authority as a punishment method was manifested by the director. For example, in an explanation given to EMC, the students state that on the very first lesson of 12th grade students after the protest, the director stressed the necessity of scheduling an immediate exam for Teona Beridze (which is confirmed by an audio recording made in class); As a response to the protest, the director warned her students that in case they spread any inaccurate information, they would have to answer in court (this is also confirmed by an audio recording).
The students state that the director’s behavior stayed punitive in the second semester: The school director prohibited the actions of students, who, after compulsory lessons, helped the 12th grade students prepare for unified national exams. In addition, the director told several Gold Medal candidate students, that their graduation with a Gold Medal was under question. This was due to the fact that during the protest, one of the teachers let them write a test in English in the front yard of the school, which questioned authenticity of the writing; since the start of a new semester the director has prohibited the students from different villages to wait in classrooms before their school bus arrives. Many of these students have to wait in a cold corridor. According to the students, they have often received warnings from the school management for waiting in the corridor after the lessons.
The students have indicated one more fact. Namely, at the end of 2016, the director called over and reprimanded the Muslim students for directing their Friday prayers outside, near an old building in Mokhe. In general, it needs to be noted that during the conflict of 2014, which was related to the historical building in Mokhe, N. Rekhviashvili was active in public positioning against the Muslim community, which makes her objectivity in the school events arguable.
EMC presented detailed information on the above-mention facts to the Ministry of Education and Science, and the Public Defender, and demanded it to be fully studied. Overall, in the presented case, EMC asserts that the actions of the school director interfere with the students’ right to education. In addition, they create improper conditions for the learning environment, and constitute religious oppression of, and discrimination against the Muslim students. The school management created humiliating, dishonorable, abusive, or hostile environment for the Muslim students.
Verbal oppression expressed at the initial stage has by this time been transformed into infringement of rights, which places the Muslim students in undesirable conditions because of their religion. At the first stage the school director’s treatment was connected to wearing a headscarf and was directed at one student. Later, because of the classmates’ solidarity, it equally spread to everyone who viewed the director’s actions as humiliating.
EMC hopes, that the Ministry of Education and Science takes into account history leading to the conflict in Mokhe, possibility of a traumatic experience for the students, negative influence of the punitive actions taken for the purpose of suppressing the protest, and specialized positive events directed at renewing trust and developing tolerance.
It needs to be stressed that the students agreed on ending the protest on the condition that they would make use of legal mechanisms. In addition, they are expecting a just decision. Due to ineffectiveness of reaction mechanisms, as well as punitive measures of the school director, the situation can once again escalate at any moment. Therefore, EMC requests from the Ministry of Education to study the case and react in a timely manner.