Far right-backed French mayor seeks return of school smocks

PARIS Wed May 28, 2014 8:44am EDT

PARIS (Reuters) - Hard on the heels of the French National Front's triumph in EU elections, children in the southern town of Beziers are being urged to wear school smocks of a kind that fell out of favor almost 50 years ago.

Robert Menard, elected mayor of Beziers with the hard-right National Front's backing in March, has already introduced local laws ordering children indoors between 11 p.m. and dawn, and banning town center dwellers from hanging clothes out to dry on their street balconies during the day.

Now, after a European Parliament election on Sunday where one in four people voted for the anti-immigrant, anti-euro National Front, Menard has hatched plans to offer standardized smocks to all young schoolgoers.

"In my view it's not a bad thing to remind people with this smock that when you enter the doors of this republic's schools everyone is equal," Menard told city councillors at a meeting on Tuesday evening, according to a video clip posted by a local newspaper.

Smocks and school uniforms vanished from the predominantly state-run educational facilities in France in the wake of the student riots of May 1968. They remain a polarizing political issue of the left and right in France despite being uncontroversial and even compulsory in other parts of the world.

One conservative education minister proposed bringing back school uniforms in 2008 on the grounds that they help iron out differences between rich and poor, but nothing came of an idea critics see as an authoritarian anachronism.

(Reporting By Brian Love; Editing by Andrew Callus)