USA - Plymouth-Canton Schools, Sikhs Reach Kirpan Agreement | SIKH PHILOSOPHY NETWORK
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1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Students of the Sikh faith will be allowed to continue wearing a kirpan, the knife-like symbol of nonviolence they’re required to wear upon baptism, under terms of an agreement reached this week between Plymouth-Canton Community Schools officials and leaders of the Sikh community.

More than a half-dozen meetings — and a great deal of legal and religious research — over the last six weeks produced an agreement leaders believe will satisfy both sides of the issue.

“First and foremost, we were concerned with student safety,” said Ken Jacobs, the district’s deputy superintendent and chief operating officer. “We were concerned with how we were going to blend student safety with freedom of religion ... that’s what this country is based on. It’s been a delicate issue ... we feel comfortable and confident with this solution.”

That solution was conveyed Friday afternoon through a letter e-mailed to students, parents and school officials Friday afternoon. Both sides agreed that, starting Monday, students baptized in the Sikh faith could wear the kirpan to school under certain conditions:

• Any kirpan worn at school would have to be sewn inside a sheath in such a way that the blade would not be removable from the sheath.

• The blade of the kirpan would be restricted in length to no more than two-and one-fourth inches, taking 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 could not be worn on the outside of the clothing and could 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 violated any of the above will be subject to discipline including a prohibition on wearing the kirpan to school in the future.

The kirpan became an issue last month after a Bentley Elementary School noticed another student wearing it while playing. That student’s mother became worried about student safety. Bentley Elementary Principal Jerry Meier at first told the Sikh student he could wear the kirpan; the district, citing the district’s zero-tolerance policy against weapons and look-alikes, denied the wearing of the kirpan. The student, in consultation with Sikh leadership, agreed to leave it off while the sides worked out a compromise.

That solution was conveyed Friday afternoon through a letter e-mailed to students, parents and school officials Friday afternoon. Both sides agreed that, starting Monday, students baptized in the Sikh faith could wear the kirpan to school under certain conditions:

That compromise has now been reached.

“I have all the feedback from (parents in) my gurdwara, and they’re very happy,” said Tejkiran Singh, a member of the conflict resolution committee at the Sahib Singh Sabha, the Sikh place of worship in Canton, who met multiple times with representatives of the district. “Our goal was to be able to practice our religious practices. We will obey any law, any rules will be fully obeyed by us, (but) we wanted to be able to accommodate our faith. America stands for freedom of religion ... We have come up with a solution that allows Sikhs to practice their religion.”

District officials were “very mindful” of the possibility of legal challenges to the policy, Jacobs said. That’s why the district’s legal representatives researched case law and rendered a number of opinions along the way. Jacobs said both sides have had people urging them to challenge whatever solution gets put in place. Jacobs said very little, if any, case law would have supported a total ban of the kirpan.

“Our attorneys looked at all the case law that was available,” Jacobs said, “All the case law supports what we’re doing.”

Singh acknowledged Sikh officials at the national level wanted him to seek a policy that would have allowed Sikh students to wear the kirpan with no restrictions, but Singh said he’s confident he can convince national leaders this compromise is viable.

“The national (Sikh) community thought we shouldn’t have restrictions ... they said we don’t use (the kirpan) as a weapon,” Singh said. “But I told them that we know that, but everyone (in the community) doesn’t know that. As far as the local community is concerned, they tend to listen. I told (the national group) my major aim is to not only look at the law, but look at how we can make parents happy.”

Both Singh and Jacobs sang each other’s praises in terms of the cooperation exhibited in arriving at the decision.

“It was a wonderful experience working with those very professional people,” Singh said. “I’m very happy.”

Added Jacobs: “The Sikh community has been very good about listening to us and addressing our concerns. They’ve been very willing to cooperate with us.”


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
admin note: There have been about 12 court decisions in the US which have ruled that students may carry kirpan in public schools. The outcome reported in this story describes an accommodation that is generally consistent with decisions taken in the other cases.

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