The Piedalloues primary school in Auxerre, in Burgundy, gave red discs to non-pork eating pupils and yellow discs to those who do not eat meat.
Eighteen of the school’s 1,500 pupils were made to wear the discs. They were withdrawn after protests by angry parents and community leaders, who said they were reminiscent of the yellow stars Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi occupation.
“It’s revolting. It reminds you of the darkest times,” said a local councillor, Malika Ounès. “Practices like this are not acceptable. No one has the right to impose this on children.”
Christian Sautier, director of communications in the mayor’s office, said it was “an isolated, clumsy and unfortunate initiative” that lasted only one day. He said it had been put into effect by canteen staff without informing local authorities, who ended it immediately.
“When we learned about it, we fell out of our chairs,” Mr Sautier said, adding that the mayor had ordered an investigation.
Serving schoolchildren alternative meals without pork is a sensitive issue in France. The far-Right Front National opposes the practice. Its leader, Marine Le Pen, ignited controversy last year by trying to force school canteens in towns where the party won local elections to stop offering non-pork options.
In March, the former centre-Right president, Nicolas Sarkozy, said he too opposed pork-free options in schools, a view that was quickly disavowed by several prominent figures in his party, The Republicans.
The Republican mayor of Chalon-sur-Saône, also in Burgundy, has ordered schools in the town to stop offering non-pork choices on days when pork is served. A Muslim group has started legal proceedings against the ruling, to come into effect next month.
There has also been controversy over whether holiday camps should be forced to provide halal food for Muslim children, as well as higher-profile disputes over veils.
Headscarves and other forms of clothing linked to religious observances are banned in state schools and a law prohibiting the wearing of full-face Islamic veils in public was introduced in 2011.