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Anti-racism groups and teachers’ unions in France have demanded an investigation into why French police asked schools to provide information on the number of pupils absent for the Muslim holiday of Eid.

The interior ministry confirmed it had asked some schools in the southwestern city of Toulouse to “assess” pass rates for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr on April 21, but it denied claims the request was a religious census.

France’s secular laws prohibit the collection of statistics relating to to ethnicity, origin or religion, with very few exceptions.

Police sent emails to school principals at the Toulouse academy asking how many students were absent that day as part of a “request from intelligence services” to calculate the percentage of absences… during the Eid holiday.’

The request was made directly to the school concerned without consultation with the Toulouse rectory.

“We do not conduct such investigations under any circumstances,” academy rector Mostafa Fourard told AFP.

“As soon as heads of institutions and school principals informed us about this request, instructions were given not to respond to it,” the rectorate said.

“We see this as a serious drift, a stigmatization of Muslim students and an attack on their freedom of conscience.”

“Due Investigation”

Leaders of associations, trade unions and politicians expressed concern about the initiative of the police.

The police request is “particularly shocking because it links Muslim religious practice to a security issue,” rights group SOS Racisme said, stressing that the request to the schools came from the Department of Public Safety (DDSP).

“For what other religious holidays does the Home Office request estimates of absenteeism,” the group asked in his press release.

The teachers’ union “Sud-Education” said it did not understand how such an initiative could appear “without discussion”.

The Union of Mosques in France called for a “proper investigation”.

“Families should be properly informed and reassured about the fate of the information provided by some school principals who, unfortunately, responded to the request of the police,” the message reads.

In response to the criticism, the Secretary of State for Citizenship Sonia Backes issued a statement on Sunday in which she acknowledged that the Home Office had requested information about truancy but denied any desire to classify students by their religion.

“The Ministry regularly studies the impact of certain religious holidays on the functioning of public services, in particular in the school system,” she wroteadding that “no nominal data was requested or recorded at any time.”

According to the 2004 circular, students are required to attend school regularly, but are allowed to take days off to commemorate and participate in religious festivals, ensuring the request is made in advance.

(from AFP)