A Muslim-American Olympic athlete helped create a social media firestorm this past week when she echoed an accusation that a New Jersey elementary school teacher forcibly removed a student’s hijab.
On Thursday, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad posted on Facebook that Seth Boyden Elementary School teacher Tamar Herman yanked off the hijab after the student had resisted, “exposing her hair to the class.”
Muhammad, a New Jersey native who competed in the Rio de Janeiro 2016 games, claimed Herman told the student that her hair “was beautiful” and thus did not have to wear a hijab.
“Imagine being a child and stripped of your clothing in front of your classmates,” Muhammad wrote. “Imagine the humiliation and trauma this experience has caused her. This is abuse.”
However, Patch.com reports Herman’s lawyer totally refutes Muhammad’s accusations, and says her client has been getting threats due to the social media uproar. This includes a demand for her firing from the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Forcefully stripping off the religious headscarf of a Muslim girl is not only exceptionally disrespectful behavior, but also a humiliating and traumatic experience.
— CAIR New Jersey (@CAIRNJ) October 8, 2021
“This is not a story about a teacher who forcibly removed a student’s hijab,” attorney Samantha Harris said. “This is a story about social media, misinformation, and what happens when people publicize rumors without any knowledge of or regard for the truth.”
Harris says Herman had “directed a student in her class to pull down the hood on a hooded sweatshirt because it was blocking her eyes,” but “immediately rescinded the request” when she realized the student was wearing the hood in place of her usual hijab.
Harris said, “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.”
The school district’s statement Thursday said, “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 district added it “must abide by [its] legal obligations to keep personnel and student matters confidential” and ensure that “due process mechanisms to ensure fair and just outcomes” are utilized.
In 2018, Muhammad claimed she “routinely experienced microaggressions” as a member of Duke University’s fencing team, which ultimately led to her departure from the squad. She alleged “certain girls” did not want to be her friends, and that she and a black teammate were the target of “endless numbers of ‘harmless jokes’ and offhand comments.”