A New Jersey school district is investigating after a teacher allegedly yanked a hijab off a Muslim student and told her she didn't need to cover her hair at school.
The alleged incident happened on Thursday at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, New Jersey and was described in a social media post by Ibtihaj Muhammad, an Olympic bronze medalist fencer who is from Maplewood and has the distinction of being the first American woman of Muslim faith to wear the hijab at the Olympics.
"The young student resisted, by trying to hold onto her hijab, but the teacher pulled the hijab off, exposing her hair to the class," Muhammad wrote on Instagram.
She added that the teacher told the student that "her hair was beautiful and she did not have to wear hijab to school anymore."
The Muslim faith prescribes that men and women dress modestly. Some girls and women choose to also wear a head covering or hijab as part of their faith.
"Imagine being a child and stripped of your clothing in front of your classmates. Imagine the humiliation and trauma this experience has caused her. This is abuse," Muhammad wrote.
In a statement sent to TODAY, the South Orange-Maplewood School District said it was investigating the incident, but added that "social media is not a reliable forum for due process."
"We must abide by our legal obligations to keep personnel and student matters confidential," the statement said. "We will utilize the existing District due process mechanisms to ensure fair and just outcomes based upon the results of our investigation. Any decision or outcome related to this will be reserved for after the completion of the investigation."
The school district added that it remains committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, as well as regular anti-bias and anti-racism training for educators.
"Regardless of the results of the investigation, we are committed to restorative practices to help our students, staff and families process the social-emotional harms done," the statement added.
Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told TODAY that he found out about the incident on Thursday after the student's mother called him.
"People can't claim ignorance and they don't know. It’s very common knowledge the significance of the headscarf in the religion," he told TODAY in a phone interview.
The advocacy group, which works with communities around the United States on civil rights issues, is calling for the teacher to be fired.
“Anything less than removing her from the classroom would be unacceptable," Maksut said. "If she can't respect the religious practices of her students, then she shouldn’t be teaching."