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Hijab-wearing student prevented from taking exam for refusing to show ears

Collège de Maisonneuve in Montreal is photographed on March 12 2015.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

A Montreal junior college is trying to determine how to accommodate a student who was prevented from taking an exam because she wouldn't temporarily remove part of her hijab, a school spokeswoman said Monday.

The young woman was asked by her male biology teacher two weeks ago to pull back part of her Islamic headscarf so he could see whether she was wearing headphones, said Line Legare with College de Maisonneuve.

"She didn't want to show him her ears," Legare said, adding the student offered her teacher the possibility of touching her through the hijab to make sure she wasn't trying to cheat.

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"That made the teacher uncomfortable."

He then told the student she couldn't take the exam that day.

Legare noted the teacher made it clear at the beginning of the school year he reserved the right to ensure students weren't wearing headphones before exams.

"Whether the student had a tuque, a hat, or lots of hair," Legare said, the teacher had written in his course outline he would ask students to show him their ears, a policy she said was condoned by the biology department.

Legare said the teacher and the student are negotiating another date for her to sit the exam.

She said to her knowledge the student hasn't filed a formal complaint and added the school is looking at ways to ensure future "misunderstandings" aren't repeated.

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard was asked Monday about the incident and replied the teacher "used his judgment" to ensure there was no suspicion of cheating.

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"From what I hear, the exam will take place," he said in Montreal. "I think this shows that people on the ground are best-placed to manage these questions."

He added his government has introduced a bill regarding religious accommodation "and we'll have the chance to have a debate on these issues."

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