PARIS, France - A teenage French student has been banned from wearing a long skirt in a school sparking a huge outcry in a country governed by law guaranteeing secularism.
The 15-year-old girl named Sarah had missed two days of her class this month following the dispute over her black skirt, French education officials said on Wednesday.
The principal reportedly perceived her skirt as an ostentatious gesture that violated a ban on religious signs in French schools.
Sarah was among a group of at least five girls who arrived at the Leo Lagrange School in recent weeks with long skirts, and Islamic headscarves.
The girl has said the skirt was not a religious symbol.
"The girl was not excluded, she was asked to come back with a neutral outfit and it seems her father did not want the student to come back to school," local education official Patrice Dutot told AFP.
Dutot admitted that the student always removed her veil before entering school premises in the north-eastern town of Charleville-Mezieres, as is specifically stipulated by law.
The case has provoked angry reactions online. A popular Twitter hashtag jeportemajupecommejeveux (I wear my skirt as I like) was trending on social networking sites on Wednesday after the dispute was made public in the local newspaper in northeast France.
"If it's worn by a 'white' person, it's hippy chic, if it's a Muslim, it becomes conspicuous," one user tweeted.
Nicolas Cadene, an official advising the prime minister on secular issues, has said that wearing a long black skirt to school does not break the rules.
"The 2004 law says that symbols and clothing worn to show religious affiliation are prohibited," Cadene told Buzzfeed France (in French).
"We obviously think of the veil, the kippah, a large cross, a Sikh turban... A black skirt do not contravene the law."
Cadene was referring to a ban introduced in 2004 on Muslim headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious symbols at state schools, and widely welcomed in a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law.
The regional education office hinted in a statement that wearing the skirt could have been part of a concerted "provocation."
"When it comes to concerted protest actions by students, which follow other more visible incidents linked for instance to wearing the veil, the secular framework for education must be firmly reminded and guaranteed," it said.
According to the CCIF Islamophobia watchdog, about 130 students were rejected from class last year for outfits deemed too openly religious.