After growing calls for a New Jersey elementary school teacher to be fired over allegations she pulled off a student's hijab, the teacher has denied the incident occurred.
In a statement from her attorney, Seth Boyden Elementary schooler teacher Tamar Herman said her 2nd grade student wasn't wearing a hijab but it was a hoodie.
"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a student in her class to pull down the hood on a hooded sweatshirt because it was blocking her eyes - and immediately rescinded that request when she realized that the student was wearing the hood in place of, rather than on top of, her usual hijab," said attorney Samatha Harris.
That's not how it happened, according to the 7-year-old's mother, Zaynab Wyatt, who says other students also recounted Herman telling her hair was beautiful that she should not be covering it up with a headscarf.
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Wyatt says her two daughters have worn the Muslim traditional garment since infancy and it's part of their religious and cultural identity. So when she heard about what happened, she was outraged and called for Herman to be fired.
"They have to remove from the school. They have to remove her from this district. She needs to be fired. She needs to go to counseling. My daughter has to go to counseling," Wyatt said.
The case also has the executive director of The Council on American-Islamic Relations of New Jersey, as well as hundreds of others, calling for that educator to be fired. It was brought to wide attention by Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is from Maplewood and wrote a children's book about the hijab, after she posted about the incident on social media.
"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. Schools should be a haven for all of our kids to feel safe, welcome and protected— no matter their faith," Muhammad wrote in her Instagram post. "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. By protecting Muslim girls who wear hijab, we are protecting the rights of all of us to have a choice in the way we dress."
In an emailed statement to parents on Thursday, the South Orange Maplewood School District said it was made aware of the allegations and started an investigation, adding that social media is "not a reliable forum for due process."
"We must abide by our legal obligations to keep personnel and student matters confidential. We will utilize the existing District due process mechanisms to ensure fair and just outcomes based upon the results of our investigation. Any decision or outcome related to this will be reserved for after the completion of the investigation," the statement read.
This isn't the first time the school district has faced allegations of discrimination. In the summer of 2020, the South Orange Maplewood School District settled a lawsuit that claimed it effectively segregated students based on race. As part of the settlement with the Black Parents Workshop, the district agreed to hire more people of color to serve as teachers.
The group's lawyer is now representing the Wyatt family in the hijab removal case.