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Protesters call for investigation after Palestinian students told to take off traditional scarves at Halifax school


About 50 people rallied outside the Nova Scotia education minister’s office Monday after students of Palestinian descent were allegedly told to take off cultural garments during a multicultural day at a school in Halifax last week.

On Wednesday, students at Park West School wore clothing representing their cultures.

However, students of Palestinian descent were reportedly singled-out and told to remove their Keffiyehs – traditional scarf-like garments that represent the Palestinian culture and identity.

“We are demanding an independent investigation into this incident,” said Rana Zaman, as she addressed those in attendance Monday.

“We demand that the principal of Park West School and HRCE [Halifax Regional Centre for Education] issue a formal apology to the Palestinian students and their families, as well as to the broader community who felt attacked and discriminated against.”

The group, which held the rally, is calling on the HRCE to incorporate zero-tolerance policies for any form of anti-Palestinian racism. Zaman says training programs need to be developed for school communities to understand and address anti-Palestinian racism.

Maamoun Alhindi told CTV News Sunday that his nephew was one of the students who was told to take off the garment.

“Before he went home, he sent a text to his mother telling her the principal forced him to take off the Keffiyeh,” Alhindi said.

Alhindi says his nephew was told, “It’s a sign of war.”

The incident prompted outrage in the local community, which immediately launched an email campaign -- some 14,000 in all, but inquiries to the school board went nowhere.

“All that we got is vague answers,” said Lana Khammash, who attended the demonstration. “No one admit, no one confirm or clarify the incident.”

The black and white cloth is checkered with embroidery that includes patterns of olive leaves, fishnet, and a road that represents the historic relationship between Palestinian fishermen and the sea, as well as a historic trade route in the region.

Ibrahim Alshanti, a spokesperson for the parents of six children of Palestinian descent at the school, says one student, in Grade 6, who refused to take off the scarf was sent to the principal’s office.

He says when the student tried to explain the significance of the scarf no one listened.

“[The student was] trying to show her on her phone some articles about it and then the vice-principal came and he pulled the phone forcibly from the girl,” Alshanti told CTV News.

In a statement released Saturday, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education said the matter was reviewed by the administration and discussed privately with the students and their families.

“Following the incident, many in the Palestinian and other communities came to believe that students were banned from wearing the [Keffiyeh], a traditional scarf, to school. This is not the case,” read the statement.

The group Independent Jewish Voices Canada also weighed in with a statement Saturday, condemning the incident as “anti-Palestinian racism.”

"[The HRCE saying] they didn't ban them, everything is fine, and everything is to go back to normal,” said the group’s Halifax Spokesperson, Judy Haiven. “That's called gas lighting."

For its part, the HRCE says an investigation is ongoing.

“The matter is being reviewed closely,” HRCE communications officer Lindsey Bunin told CTV news Monday.

“The statement on Saturday did include a formal apology. We do understand and definitely recognize the situation did cause some harm in the community, and we wanted to take accountability for that right away, and make sure they understand that we are, of course, reviewing this with great detail.”

Bunin says the centre for education is getting as much information as possible from all of those involved.

“Our school supervisor and our diversity team were on site at Park West today. It was business as usual at the school, and we're just collecting that information and making sure we understand what we can do to make sure all the students have that environment of respect and dignity while they're learning,” said Bunin.

Asked if the principal could face disciplinary action or suspension, she said, "Of course, as I said, the matter is being reviewed, and HR matters are all confidential, so business as usual at Park West for now."

Protesters have a second demonstration planned for Tuesday. Top Stories

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