A school in southern Germany is trying to ban students from wearing neo-Nazi gear even though instituting a formal dress code leads them into a legal grey area.
Provocative symbols will be banned if the school gets its way
Students sport bomber jackets with a not-so-secret code for "Heil Hitler" stitched on. Or they strut in combat boots with white laces, a symbol for the white race. Or maybe, some go so far as to decorate school walls with Nazi symbols.
In one school in the southern German town of Weinstadt in Baden-Württemberg, school officials say that since the beginning of the school year, this phenomenon has become increasingly common.
"Every tenth student regularly wears the right-wing extremist symbols," teacher Antje Fröhlich of the Reinhold-Nägele High School told Der Spiegel newsmagazine.
One teacher found a swastica on classroom walls.
But when a ninth grader showed up sporting a jacket with "European Master Race" on it, school staff had been pushed too far: the teacher refused to allow the child into the classroom.
Shortly after, the teacher called the student's father, who didn't acknowledge there was a problem, saying that as long as there is no official rule forbidding such apparel, he would do nothing. Besides, he told the teacher, his son has no interest in politics but just wear such gear because he likes it.
Not in our school, teachers say
Learning a new language
For most adults, this sort of secret language is incomprehensible. It consists of such things as "88," code for "Heil Hitler" (H is the 8th letter of the alphabet) or 18, a symbol for Adolf Hitler, or particular brands of clothing that neo-Nazis prefer such as Lonsdale of London.
But these days, parents and officials are learning fast.
At another school, students, parents and school staff decided by a majority to forbid these symbols. And at Reinhold Nägele High School, staff is pleading with state officials to create a law so they can do the same.
But so far, it hasn't been a smooth road. Questions have arisen over freedom of expression. School officials grapple to determine which gear to forbid: should they ban combat boots completely or only when they are worn with a bomber jacket? Or should the school examine each case individually?
A poor example for children
Other German states, such as Berlin and Lower Saxony, have for years forbidden such symbols in schools, affecting about 40,000 students. But VBE teachers' union has warned that such actions threaten personal freedoms and are ineffective.
"Many teachers aren't familiar with many regulations," spokesman for the union, VBE spokesman Michael Gomolzig told Der Spiegel.
He recommended educating children about the radical right in elementary school because "by the time they are sporting bomber jackets and combat boots, it is too late."
Officials from Baden-Württemberg have decided against a state-wide ban, saying that it is not a school's place to decide what students can wear. Still, they are allowing schools to forbid specific gear symbolic of the right-wing extremists, because they say this doesn't hurt personal freedoms.
Meanwhile, teachers from the school hope for an open discussion between parents, students and staff so that the school, said one teacher, could be salvaged.