MALDEN, Mass. (AP) — A Massachusetts charter school where an eighth-grade student was written up for a uniform infraction for wearing a hijab says it understands its “handling of the situation came across as insensitive.” The school said in an emailed statement that it allows students to wear religious attire “as an expression of their sincerely held beliefs,” but asks students to provide a letter “expressing this desire from a member of their clergy.”
A family member of the Mystic Valley Regional Charter School student posted on social media a picture of the “School Uniform Compliance Form” the student received from a teacher for the hijab on Thursday. In the description of the infraction, the headscarf worn by Muslim women was misspelled as “jihab.”
School Superintendent Alex Dan said there were no consequences given to the student and that the form sent home was meant to start the conversation with the family about obtaining a religious accommodation. But Dan acknowledged that the situation was mishandled. “While we would like to reiterate that the well-respected staff member overseeing the process should bear no responsibility for what has transpired, we understand how our handling of the situation came across as insensitive and look forward to using this moment as a learning opportunity to improve our policies and procedures,” the school’s statement said.
The Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says its lawyers are representing the student’s family and are investigating the situation. The student is now wearing a hijab at school, the group said. CAIR-Massachusetts Executive Director Tahirah Amatul-Wadud said wearing a hijab or other religious attire shouldn’t require families to seek accommodation. “I would like never for that student have to justify what she is wearing,” she said Sunday. “I don’t want them to ever have to justify that this requires an accommodation.”
The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School also came under fire in 2017 for a policy of banning hair braid extensions. The parents of then-15-year-olds said their twin daughters, who are Black, were punished for wearing extensions while white students hadn’t been punished for violations of hairstyle regulations.
After intense criticism, including from Democratic Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, the school abandoned the policy. In July, Republican Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law prompted by that incident to ban discrimination based on natural and protective hairstyles—such as Afros, cornrows, or tightly coiled twists—in workplaces, school districts, and school-related organizations in the state.
This story has been corrected to reflect that the group’s name is the Council on American-Islamic Relations, not Islamic-American Relations.