Assessment of Internal Audit Report on Mokhe Public School

According to the inspection report prepared by the Internal Audit Department of the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia on the public school of the village Mokhe, dated February 16, 2017, discrimination of a Muslim student by the school principal has not been proved. The report also justifies possible prohibition by school administration of wearing a headscarf. 

Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI) applied to the Ministry of Education and Science as to the alleged discriminative treatment of Teona Beridze, the 12th grade student of Mokhe public school on December 26, 2016.

On March 2, TDI received the processed report (ensuring protection of personal data) prepared as a result of the internal inspection conducted in the public school of Mokhe, [1] According to the report “as a result of the conducted procedures, based on analysis of the circumstances and written statements of the persons related to the case, fact of discriminatory treatment was not proved”.

The provided document hides almost all factual circumstances leading to the assessment of the Ministry and there is no clear statement as to whether the acting director actually prohibited the student to wear the headscarf. Despite the fact, the report provides discussion why is it justified to prohibit the student to wear the headscarf.

Factual circumstances related to alleged discriminatory treatment of Teona Beridze

Teona Beridze who was studying at the 27th public school of Batumi submitted mobility application and related documents to be transferred to Mokhe public school on December 11. According to Natela Narimanishvili, physics teacher in the school, she, being instructed by the director, warned Teona on December 23, that she would not be admitted at school if she continued waring headscarf. Beridze refused to comply with the request. According to the student, on the same day, she was called by Natia Rekhviashvili, acting director of the school, in her office and with the presence of Natela Narimanishvili, she advised to remove the headscarf and warned that if she did not obey she would not be admitted at the school. The request was explained by Rekhsviashvili invoking the internal regulation of the school prohibiting wearing headscarf in the school.

On December 26-27, classmates of Teona refused to attend the classes as a solidarity protest and requested resignation of the director.

Natia Rekhviashvili refused the fact of prohibiting the student to wear the headscarf several times and qualified the events as “managed and guided by the external powers”.

As it became known later, when the director requested Beridze to remove the headscarf as a pre-condition for acceptance at the school, she had already been admitted several hours before. However, as Beridze explains, Rekshviashvili did not disclose the fact while talking to her.

In the end, on December 22, Teona Beridze was admitted at the school. However, according to statements of her classmates and herself, director continued to treat her differently and discrimination facts became of a constant nature.

At the first stage of studying the factual circumstances, TDI prepared the legal assessment and emphasized on the possible breach of the law of Georgia on General Education and the school ethical norms by the director.

TDI became aware on February 27th that the based on the internal audit assessment conducted by the Ministry of Education and Science, there was no discrimination fact identified in Mokhe public school as to the treatment of Teona Beridze. Head of the Public Relations Department explained while commenting on this matter to TDI that on January 17-19 the Ministry representatives interviewed the school teachers and students and after assessing the obtaining statements, they found that there was no discrimination and nobody requested the 12th grade student Teona Beridze to remove the headscarf.

As already mentioned, unlike the statements given to TDI by the Ministry of Education, in the internal audit report obtained by the organization, there are hidden or not indicated the facts that would confirm or reject the fact of prohibition of wearing the headscarf by the director.

Legal analysis of the inspection report of the Internal Audit Department of the Ministry of Education

According to the internal inspection report of the Audit Department of the Ministry of Education and Science, discrimination was not identified and proved due to the following arguments:

  • Using the headscarf in Mokhe public school was prohibited not only for Teona Beridze but for all students. Therefore, one of the elements of discriminatory treatment, which is treating the person disparately compared to similar group was not present.

Article 13.3 of the Law on General Education Law of Georgia determines that any discrimination at school is prohibited. According to TDI, the Ministry should have assessed whether the school protected rights of students belonging different religious groups and whether there was a differentiated treatment among them. The Ministry did not assess whether other students, including the representatives of the dominant religious group, had restrictions on wearing the religious symbols or accessories or ability to express their religious identity in other forms. It follows from the report that the discriminative approach as to wearing the headscarf extends to not only Teona Beridze, but also to all Muslim students deciding to wear the headscarf at school.

According to the audit report, Tolerance and Diversity Institute delivered information to the Ministry as if in the school where 90% of students are Muslims there was no occasion of students willing to wear headscarf before. This statement is not true and misinterprets the context of assessment of TDI and is an attempt of justifying the weak argumentation. In TDI’s application, there was information about the proportion in percentages of Muslim and orthodox students and there was nothing mentioned about the experience of wearing headscarf in the past.

Internal Audit report justifies prohibition of headscarf according to the following arguments:

According to TDI’s assessment, the Ministry misinterprets the law. Given provision does not extend to using religious accessories and attire, including headscarf by the students since the provision prohibits display of crosses, icons and other symbols for non-academic purposes and not wearing of the religious symbols or clothes including headscarf or crosses by the students. In addition, 2nd part of this provision is neglected, which prohibits imposition of such obligations on the students, parents and teachers that substantially contradict their belief or religious mindset.

When the Ministry talks about threat of breaching neutrality at school, we have to consider the Ministry’s reactions to the breaches of secular principles at schools for many years. Reports and studies of the Public Defender of Georgia and the non-governmental organizations working on religious freedom issues, prove that there is a practice of display of the orthodox symbols and breach of religious neutrality at schools.[2]  Despite many recommendations of the organizations, the Ministry mainly does not react to the breaches of the law and its policy for protection of the religious neutrality and equal rights at school is inefficient and inadequate. In addition, the report does not show whether the Ministry was interested as to the actual facts of breaching such provisions at school, namely, exhibition of religious symbols b the school administration in the school spaces. The audit report is silent on the matter.

  • The report states that according to article 3.1(a) of the Law of Georgia on General Education, the main goal of the state policy in the field of general education is to create the conditions for raising independent persons having the national and general human values. Establishment of the “civil awareness based on the liberal-democratic values” is impossible if the school is not distanced from the political and religious unions.

TDI considers, that this argument does not justify prohibition of wearing a headscarf, but it directly contradicts the goals determined for the general education. One of the fundamental principles of liberal values is ensuring religious freedom and from this perspective, any prohibition should serve a legitimate purpose. According to article 13.6 of the Law of Georgia on General Education, the school shall protect and support the students, parents and teachers to establish the mutual respect and tolerance despite of their social, ethnic, religious, linguistic and political belonging.

  • The report justifies prohibition of wearing a headscarf with the argument of avoidance of “religious hatred” – according to the Ministry, the school may adopt the non-discriminatory and neutral regulations limiting the rights and freedoms of students, teachers and parents during the school time and in the territory of schools for the purposes of implementation of this law; also, if there is a justified and unavoidable threat of “increasing the ethnic or religious hatred”. We read in the report the following; “Some of the persons in the school relate the matter of wearing the headscarf to the external processes, namely, construction of the religious building in village Mokhe of Adigeni Municipality. Therefore, for ensuring conduct of the teaching process without hindrances and grievances, the school was authorized to establish the regulations restricting the possible reasons of the problems and enforce the internal regulations”.

According to TDI, prohibiting one student to wear a headscarf in the context of the events happening in relation of the so called disputed building in Mokhe is not legally justified. It follows from the argumentation that religious self-expression of an individual is provoking the conflict. Such approach causes marginalization and negative treatment of the religious group. If the Ministry is interested in the religious conflict and existing social contexts, the Internal Audit Department should have firstly studied what influence the activism and the statements of the acting director may have had on this matter especially when the director was actively participating in the demonstrations related to the disputed building in the village Mokhe making the public statements against local Muslims. Consequently, the Ministry of Education and Science could have assessed qualification of the school director and her compliance with the standards of ethics in the school where the majority of the students are Muslims.

  • Pursuant to the report, despite the fact that the internal regulation of the school does not prohibit wearing the headscarf, such restriction may still be adopted considering goals of the regulations given in other provisions such as prohibition for the student to have a dyed hair.

According to article 23.5 of the school regulations, the student shall not appear at school with a dyed hair. According to the report, it is impossible for the school to determine whether the student observes the rule if she wears a headscarf. Relation between the wearing a headscarf and having dyed hair is absurd and lacks any legal justification and reasoning.

  • The report justifies prohibition invoking practice of some states, banning wearing the headscarf at school might be in line with the principle of secularism and does not limit religious freedom.

According to assessment of TDI, for comparative analysis of the matter, we have to consider the social, political and religious context of such countries. To begin with, we have to discuss the standards determined under the respective national laws. For example, in Germany, having debates on allowing the students to wear the Islamic headscarf, on September 24, 2003, the constitutional court found in the case of the teachers versus the land of Baden-Wurttemberg that absence of prohibitive provision in the law gave the teachers right to wear the headscarf at schools.

We have to emphasize that article 19 of the Constitution of Georgia protects the religious freedom. Constitutional Court of Georgia many times established the importance, scope of application and legitimacy of restrictions in the freedom of religion. “Freedom of belief is a freedom of outlook, since the ability to live and develop according to own interests, will, taste, understandings and opinions establishes “oneself’ of a human, his/her substance, personality, determines his or her role in the personal, private environment or society, gives his or her life an orientation. Therefore, excessive interference in this freedom [….] results in his or her spiritual torture”. “In general, obliging the person to act against his or her belief may be equivalent of rejection of belief in some cases”. [3] The constitutional provisions on religious freedoms include the right to express religion and wear the religious accessories and outfits. According to article 19 of the Constitution of Georgia, freedom of belief may be limited “only for purposes of protection of rights and freedoms of others”.[4]

In the legal environment when the national legislation determines no prohibition on wearing a headscarf at school and there is no threat of violating rights of others, the assessment of the Internal Audit Department of the Ministry and any attempt of justifying the prohibition lacks the basic legal justification and is against of the principle of the rule of law.

This document ignores religious freedom principles and standards enshrined in the Constitution of Georgia, Law of Georgia on General Education and international law. Hence, the Ministry legitimizes the fact of discrimination and makes it impossible for religious minorities to get education in the environment, based on the principles of equal rights and opportunities.

 

[1] Audit Report # 0902171610 of the Internal Audit Department of the Ministry of Education and Science of Georgia.

[2]https://www.ombudsman.ge/en/reports/saparlamento-angarishebi; http://tdi.ge/sites/default/files/study_of_religious_discrimination_and_constitutional_secularism_tdi.pdf; https://emc.org.ge/2014/03/31/religion-in-public-schools/

[3] Public Defender of Georgia against the Parliament of Georgia, December 22, 2011.

[4] Id. 

Mar/1708