France, which has enforced a strict ban on religious signs in state schools since 19th century laws removed any traditional Catholic influence from public education, has struggled to update guidelines to deal with a growing Muslim minority.
In 2004, it banned headscarves in schools and passed a ban on full face veils in public in 2010, angering some in its 5 million-strong Muslim community.
Defending secularism is a rallying cry in France that resonates across the political spectrum, from left-wingers upholding the liberal values of the Enlightenment to far-right voters seeking a bulwark against the growing role of Islam in French society.
“I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal said in an interview with TV channel TF1.
“When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them,” he said.