MAPLEWOOD, New Jersey (WABC) -- A family in Maplewood, New Jersey, says that their young daughter's teacher ripped her hijab off of her head, traumatizing the child.
The allegations have many in the community asking, how does this happen in 2021?
Eyewitness News spoke with Sumayyah Wyatt's mother, Cassandra Wyatt, who said her daughter is no longer interested in wearing the Muslim garb after the incident at Seth Boyden Elementary School.
The family's lawyer says the second-grader wore her hijab to class on October 6, as she does every day.
But on this particular day, the teacher reportedly told her to remove it. When she 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. "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 said the teacher's actions must have consequences.
"She had to know that was a hijab," she said. "She has to pay for that. I'd love for her to apologize to my daughter, and then my daughter would feel better."
Meanwhile, attorney Samantha Harris, who represents the elementary school teacher, released a statement in 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to pull down the hood on what appeared to be a hooded sweatshirt because it was blocking her eyes - and immediately rescinded that request when she realized that the student was wearing the hood in place of, rather than on top of, her usual hijab.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 South Orange Maplewood School District is investigating the incident.
"The district takes matters of discrimination extremely seriously," officials said in a statement. "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 attorney said he is working on helping the family get a resolution, but their focus, of course, is on the little girl.
All of this came to light after fencer and Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is also from Maplewood and is known to compete with her hijab on, took to Facebook to shed light on the incident.
"This is abuse," she wrote. "Schools should be a haven for all of our kids to feel safe, welcome and protected -- no matter their faith."
We are not identifying the teacher because the school district has not confirmed his or her identity.
CAIR-NJ is demanding the teacher be fired.
"We call for the immediate firing of the teacher," Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said. "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."