A teacher at a South Orange-Maplewood school in New Jersey was accused of forcibly removing a second-grade girl’s hijab in class. The accusation was amplified by social media users with large followings, including Olympic athlete Ibtihaj Muhammad, who wrote on Facebook that the teacher – whom she named – “forcibly removed the hijab of a second grade student.”
“The young student resisted by trying to hold onto her hijab, but the teacher pulled the hijab off, exposing her hair to the class. [The teacher] told the student that her hair was beautiful and she did not have to wear hijab to school anymore,” Muhammad wrote, according to Patch.
The school quickly released a statement saying it would investigate the matter.
“The district takes matters of discrimination extremely seriously. This evening, we were alerted to social media posts related to the allegations. Social Media is not a reliable forum for due process and the staff member(s) involved are entitled to due process before any action is taken,” the statement said.
The teacher Tamar Herman, started to receive threats and calls for her termination after the accusation went viral, with the Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR) predictably calling the teacher a “racist” and accepting the story as fact.
But Herman’s attorney, Samantha Harris, said the incident did not happen the way it was reported in the media and on social media.
“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 said in a statement published by Patch.
“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a student in her class to pull down the hood on a hooded sweatshirt because it was blocking her eyes – and immediately rescinded that request when she realized that the student was wearing the hood in place of, rather than on top of, her usual hijab,” Harris added.
Harris also said that the “misinformation shared on social media has caused tremendous harm to Ms. Herman,” whom has been teaching for more than 30 years. Harris said Herman has needed police protection due to the threats she has received from what she called “false information.”
The family of the student who made the accusation is standing by their story, which insists that out of nowhere, the teacher decided on October 6 to tell the student to stop wearing her hijab, even though she had been doing so without incident every other day. The family is demanding an apology from Herman,” according to WABC.
Harris, the teacher’s attorney, also noted that New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, mentioned the story, accepting the accusation as fact and joining the pile-on of Herman.
“Governor Murphy even Tweeted about it, sharing an article that was based entirely on the completely inaccurate, sensationalized story Ms. Muhammad posted on Instagram,” Harris said in her statement. “The fact that so many people seem to take at face value the idea that a veteran teacher (who has, in fact, taught numerous hijab-wearing students over the years) would forcibly remove a young girl’s hijab is deeply troubling and, I think, is reflective of the ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ climate that all too frequently dominates social media.”
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