Maplewood, NJ. – The Essex County school district is investigating an allegation that an elementary school teacher “forcibly” removed the hijab of a second-grade student in Maplewood, NJ.
The controversy started when Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is an Olympic fencer and the first American Muslim woman to wear a hijab while competing at the Olympic Games, posted about the incident on Facebook. According to the post, the student tried to stop the teacher from removing her hijab, but the teacher pulled it off, exposing her hair to the class. Muhammad’s post said the teacher told the student that “her hair was beautiful, and she did not have to wear a hijab to school anymore.”
“Imagine being a child and stripped of your clothing in front of your classmates. Imagine the humiliation and trauma this experience has caused her. This is abuse,” Muhammad wrote on Thursday. “Schools should be a haven for all of our kids to feel safe, welcome and protected— no matter their faith. We cannot move toward a post-racial America until we weed out the racism and bigotry that still exist in all layers of our society.”
The 7-year-old girl’s mother, Cassandra Wyatt, told CBS2 that her daughter has been wearing the hijab, or head scarf, since she were very young.
“I try to teach them modesty and teach them what God wants us to do and what is our purpose here,” said Cassandra Wyatt.
Wyatt says her daughter is traumatized and now doesn’t want to wear a hijab.
CAIR-NJ, the Council on American Islamic Relations, a civil rights advocacy group for Muslims, is calling for the teacher’s removal.
“The teacher not only put her hands on her, removed her headscarf. And this is, of course, humiliating for any Muslim woman to be exposed this way, in public,” said CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut.
Over the weekend, civil rights attorney Samantha Harris, who is representing the teacher accused of removing the hijab released a statement saying, “This is not a story about a teacher who forcibly removed a student’s hijab. This is a story about social media, misinformation, and what happens when people publicize rumors without any knowledge of or regard for the truth. Ms. Herman did not, as has been alleged, forcibly remove a student’s hijab or tell a student that she should not have to wear a hijab.”
Harris added, “In accordance with school policy, Ms. Herman directed a student in her class to pull down the hood on a hooded sweatshirt because it was blocking her eyes – and immediately rescinded that request when she realized that the student was wearing the hood in place of, rather than on top of, her usual hijab.”
Harris added that Herman is getting threats.
“The misinformation shared on social media has caused tremendous harm to Ms. Herman – a teacher who, after more than 30 years of devoting her heart and soul to children of all backgrounds, has now had to ask for police protection due to the threats she is receiving following the dissemination of false information on social media,” Harris said.
The school district released a statement Thursday night, noting that they were only aware of the allegation via social media, but were investigating.