Two 14-year-old boys have been banned from attending lessons with other pupils at a school in Accrington because they refuse to shave their beards.
The boys, both Muslim, have been taught in “isolation” since the start of the new term at Mount Carmel Roman Catholic High School a month ago.
Speaking to the Lancashire Evening Telegraph, a relative of one of the children described the decision to ban them as “pure discrimination”.
The family member, who did not wish to be named, told the newspaper: “Because these boys cannot shave their beards for religious reasons, they are being put in isolation for six-and-a-half hours every day.
“They are not being allowed to mix with anybody or speak to friends. It is pure discrimination.
“They chose that school because it is within their area and has good results. The school has to have an open policy and they have to take in people from all religions.”
The matter seems to have been complicated by the fact that two other boys were allowed to keep their beards towards the end of last year as their GCSE exams approached – but that was as an “exception” because the school did not want to place them under “unfair pressure”.
Headteacher Xavier Bowers said boys had that situation explained to them and were told they must return from the summer clean shaven – and he insisted that the matter was one of dress code, not religion.
“We have not taken this decision lightly,” Mr Bowers said. “I have spent quite a lot of time researching the issue and speaking to Muslim elders.
“There is nothing specifically written in the Koran about wearing a beard. It is a choice those boys are making. However inclusive we are, we have standards to maintain.
Mr Bowers today issued a further statement via Lancashire County Council in which it seemed the school was not backing down from its stance.
He said: “I am fully aware of the sensitive nature of this issue and have done my very best to be as understanding and reasonable as possible when dealing with situations of this nature.
“When necessary, we place pupils in our learning support centre who do not comply with our school policy regarding uniform and appearance.
“Here at Mount Carmel RC High School, we believe that it's important to maintain high standards in every aspect of school life, including appearance and uniform. Pupils and parents are reminded frequently of the rules on appearance, know that they apply to everyone and are regularly reminded of this.
“In my experience, families choose to send their children to this school because of our high standards and expectations.”
It is understood talks are ongoing between the families of the two boys and the school to resolve the issue.