Anti-racist groups and teaching unions in France are calling for an investigation into the request made by the police to schools regarding the number of students absent on the Muslim festival of Eid. The Ministry of the Interior confirmed that it had asked some schools in Toulouse to assess the rate of absenteeism on Eid al-Fitr but denied that it was a census on faith. France’s laws on secularism prohibit the collection of statistics related to ethnicity, origins, or religion, with only a few exceptions.
The police sent emails directly to school principals in Toulouse, requesting information on the number of absent students on Eid. The request was made without the approval of the Toulouse rectorate. The rectorate immediately instructed the schools not to respond to the request, emphasising that such investigations were not conducted. This action has been criticised as a stigmatisation of Muslim students and an infringement on their freedom of conscience.
Various associations and trade unions have expressed concern over this police initiative. Human rights group SOS Racisme found it particularly alarming that Muslim religious practice was being associated with security issues. The Sud-Education teachers’ union expressed confusion over how such an initiative could have been implemented without any discussion. The Union of Mosques of France has called for a thorough investigation to inform and reassure families about the information shared by some school principals.
In response to the criticism, Secretary of State for Citizenship Sonia Backès acknowledged that the Ministry of the Interior had requested information on absenteeism but denied any intention to classify students based on their religion. She stated that the ministry regularly studies the impact of religious holidays on public services, including the school system, and clarified that no personally identifiable data was requested or recorded.
According to a 2004 circular, students are required to maintain regular attendance but can be granted a day off in advance to observe and participate in religious holidays.