A Muslim mother wants a teacher to "pay" for allegedly pulling a hijab from her second-grade daughter's head last week — and the New Jersey branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wants the teacher fired, WABC-TV reported.
But the attorney for the teacher is telling a very different story about what happened at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, the station said.
Image source: WABC-TV video screenshot
What are the details?
The lawyer for the family of student Sumayyah Wyatt told WABC that after the grade schooler wore her hijab to class on Wednesday, her teacher told her to remove it — but when the girl resisted, the teacher yanked it off in front of the class.
"Ultimately, the teacher succeeds in pulling the hijab off her head, followed by a bizarre statement which is, 'Your hair is beautiful,'" the attorney said, according to the station. "It is incredibly disturbing. It is very, very, symbolic of disregard of her religion and certainly something that has affected my clients overall."
Cassandra Wyatt, the mother of Sumayyah, told WABC that following the alleged incident her daughter no longer wants to wear her hijab — which she had been doing every day — and now the teacher has to "pay."
Image source: WABC-TV video screenshot
"She had to know that that was my baby's hijab, and what she did was wrong," Wyatt noted to the station. "She has to pay for that."
Wyatt added to WABC that she'd "love for her to apologize to my daughter, and then my daughter would feel better."
CAIR-NJ wants teacher fired
"We call for the immediate firing of the teacher," Executive Director Selaedin Maksut told WABC. "Anything less is an insult to the students and parents of Maplewood. Forcefully stripping off the religious headscarf of a Muslim girl is not only exceptionally disrespectful behavior but also a humiliating and traumatic experience. Muslim students already deal with bullying from peers; it's unthinkable that a teacher would add to their distress. Islamophobia in our public schools must be addressed in New Jersey and nationwide. Classrooms are a place for students to feel safe and welcome, not fear practicing their faith."
Teacher's attorney tells a different story
Attorney Samantha Harris, who represents the teacher in question, issued a statement to WABC response to the allegations:
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. [The teacher] 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. In accordance with school policy, [the teacher] directed a student in her class to pull down the hood on what appeared to be 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. The misinformation shared on social media has caused tremendous harm to [the teacher] — 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.
The station said it wasn't identifying the teacher because the school district has not confirmed the teacher's identity.
What did the school district have to say?
The South Orange Maplewood School District is investigating the incident, the station said.
"The district takes matters of discrimination extremely seriously," officials added in a statement to WABC. "We remain committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our schools, including providing anti-bias and anti-racism training for all educators in the district on a regular basis."
The story came to light after Olympic medal-winning fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad — who's from Maplewood and is known to compete with her hijab on — wrote about the incident on Facebook, the station said.
"This is abuse," she wrote, according to WABC. "Schools should be a haven for all of our kids to feel safe, welcome, and protected — no matter their faith."