On Monday, Randa, an 11th-grade student at MHS, a private school in Paris, tweeted that she and other friends who wear a hijab were checked thoroughly during their preliminary Baccalaureate exams.
The checks, designed to avoid cheating, were carried out by the head of Lycée Victor Hugo, a school in Paris and location of the MHS students' exams, on June 15 and 19. Randa told BuzzFeed News that she had to "shake her hair."
Randa also told BuzzFeed News that, unlike what her tweets could imply, there was no body search or physical pat-down.
"We were already in class, the [answer] sheets were already on the desks," Izza, another student from MHS, told BuzzFeed News. She said that she had to lift her dress up to her hips.
"The principal of the school asked us to come to some kind of locker room. We were asked to remove the veil, which I find normal. But then, I had to spread my legs and lift my dress up to my hips", she added. "There were 5 other students in the room. I was very surprised by that because as a repeater, I have already done the French exam in another centre and they did not even check my ears."
Both Randa and Izza said they did not see other students being checked the way they had been. No other students with tied-back hair were asked to undo their hair to check if there were ear phones or cheat sheets hidden there, for example.
People wearing religious symbols and sitting for the Baccalaureate exams as an external candidate or a candidate from a private high school are not supposed to be affected by France's 2004 law on secularism, which bans these items at school:
The law does not apply to "candidates who come to sit for a normal or a competitive exam on the premises of a public educational institution as they don't become students of public education on the basis of that fact alone. The latter however have to comply with the rules of exam organization aiming in particular to guarantee the respect of order and security, to allow the identity verification of the candidates or to prevent fraud risks", a Ministry of National Education bulletin explains.
Hanane Loukili, the pedagogical director of MHS, told BuzzFeed News that the students were, "treated in an inadmissible way." She has collected testimony from several of her students.
"It is the first time we have noticed this kind of thing, and we would like to have some explanations from the person in charge. We don't want this to be repeated," she said.
The French Ministry of National Education refused to comment, and referred BuzzFeed France to the Paris administrative district for primary and secondary education. A spokesperson there refuted all claims of abuse and said that a "normal check" was carried out "in accordance with law."
"We ask the person to remove her veil, and, if she has several layers of clothes, to remove the top layers and to lift her arms up. We do not ask them to lift skirts," the spokesperson said. The high school's principal has not yet responded to questions from BuzzFeed France.