The 18-year-old had taken her school in Osnabrück to court after they told her she would not be able to attend classes so long as she continued to wear a niqab, which leaves the whole body covered except for a slit for the eyes. The court ultimately ruled in favour of the school.
In response, the German Education and Science Workers’ Union (GEW) said on Tuesday that the ruling was a step in the wrong direction.
“A ban on full body veils is completely the wrong way,” said GEW spokeswoman Ilka Hoffmann to newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
“We cannot exclude women from education just because they are wearing the burqa or niqab.”
For fully-veiled girls in strictly conservative households, schools are often their only opportunity to have contact with other people their age, Hoffmann explained.
“During class, they can start to develop self-confidence, which is something that is necessary in order to take off the veil against family tradition,” Hoffmann added.
“We should encourage this kind of transformation process, not hinder it.”
Still, the union sees things differently when it comes to teachers themselves wearing a niqab or burqa.
“Female teachers have to set an example and represent the state. A burqa or niqab does not go along with that.”
The topic of banning the burqa has been hotly debated in Germany as the conservative Union parties (CDU and CSU) are drafting proposals to forbid the apparel in certain public spaces as part of anti-terrorism discussions.
Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) last week said he was in favour of banning the burqa in schools and universities, as well as in the civil service and in court.
Merkel, meanwhile, said she thought wearing a burqa made it “almost impossible” to integrate into German society.
The CDU’s centre-left coalition partner the Social Democrats (SPD) criticized the proposal as a means of “stoking fear about Muslims and distracting from the real issues.”