New Jersey teacher accused of pulling student's hijab won't face charges, prosecutor says

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MAPLEWOOD, N.J. — A second grade teacher accused of pulling a hijab from the head of a student in October will not face criminal charges, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office announced Wednesday.

The agency said it investigated the alleged bias incident at Seth Boyden Elementary School on Oct. 6 and declined to charge the teacher, saying there was insufficient evidence for a criminal prosecution.

"While we understand that many may find the incident troubling, as prosecutors we have a legal and moral obligation to only bring charges in cases where we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed," the office said in a brief statement. "For those reasons, we will not move forward with this case."

Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.
Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood on Wednesday, October 13, 2021.

The teacher allegedly told the Muslim student that her hair was "beautiful" and she didn't need to cover it at school and then began pulling the hijab from the girl's head.

The teacher has said the incident was a misunderstanding and that she asked the student to raise the hood of her sweatshirt because it was covering her eyes and she brushed up the front of the hood. The child, she said, was not wearing her usual hijab underneath.

The incident gained international attention last year after Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is from Maplewood, New Jersey, posted about it on Instagram. Muhammad was the first Muslim American Olympian to compete for the U.S. in a hijab.

"By protecting Muslim girls who wear hijab, we are protecting the rights of all of us to have a choice in the way we dress," Muhammad said in the post.

The teacher was suspended after the incident. It's not clear whether she will be reinstated now that the prosecutor's office has declined to file charges.

An attorney for the student's family, Robert Tarver, said the girl has worn the hijab every day she has been in class, so the teacher “would have to have knowledge that she wore a head covering for religious purposes.”

Tarver said another student in the classroom witnessed and verified the second grader’s account.

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The child's mother, Cassandra Wyatt, said her daughter is still shaken by the incident. She spoke during a Jan. 6 press conference announcing a pending lawsuit against the teacher and the school district. The lawsuit has not yet been filed.

"I always told her her hijab was her protection," she said. "She said other kids don't wear it, and she explained if her teacher could take if off her head, she's afraid other people will try to take her hijab off."

In a statement emailed Wednesday, the school district said it "does not comment on personnel matters and we have no new update to share."

"As a district we are not privy to the details of their investigation, but we trust and respect their decision," the statement said, provided by district Communications Director Anide Eustache. "While the Essex County Prosecutor's Office has wrapped up and shared the results of their investigation, 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."

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This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Maplewood, New Jersey teacher in student hijab case won't face charges

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