Religion

Schools Say Sikh Students Can Wear Dagger, But With Modifications

CANTON, Mich. —The Plymouth-Canton school district has opted to allow Sikh students to wear a small, religious dagger to school.

The decision reverses a ban put in place in December after a fourth-grade boy at Bentley Elementary School in Canton was found with a dull 3- to 5-inch kirpan, a dagger that is a religious symbol that baptized Sikh males are expected to carry. In Sikh tradition, the kirpan represents a commitment to fight evil.

The principal initially let the boy keep the kirpan, but the school board instituted a ban because of concerns from parents and conflict with prohibitions against bringing weapons to school.

The district issued a note to parents describing conditions that would be in place to allow students to wear kirpans, beginning today:

Any kirpan worn at school should be sewn inside a sheath in such a way that the blade cannot be removed from the sheath.

The blade of the kirpan is restricted in length to no more than two and one-fourth inches. This would take the object outside the scope of the Revised School Code's definition of a knife constituting a dangerous weapon.

The blade of the kirpan must be dull.

The kirpan should not be worn on the outside of the clothing and should not be visible in any way.

It will not be the practice of staff members to conduct random searches for the possession of kirpans. However, students who violate any of the above will be subject to discipline, including a prohibition on wearing the kirpan to school in the future.

"While our school district is committed to providing a safe learning environment for all of our students, we must also balance the rights of students to express and practice their religion. In light of the strict scrutiny standard applied by Michigan courts in determining whether an individual's right to freely exercise his or her religion has been violated, the district will amend its blanket restriction against wearing the kirpan in school," according to the note to parents.

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