Muslim girl suspended for head scarf
Saturday, October 11, 2003
The school board is expected to have a decision next Wednesday on whether Hern can return to school wearing her head scarf, officials said.
OKLAHOMA CITY (Reuters) -- An 11-year-old Oklahoma girl has been suspended from a public school because officials said her Muslim head scarf violates dress code policies.
Board officials met Friday to discuss the fate of suspended sixth-grader Nashala "Tallah" Hern, who was asked to leave school in the eastern Oklahoma town of Muskogee on October 1 because she refused to remove her head scarf, called a "hijab."
School officials instituted a dress code in 1997 prohibiting the wearing of hats and other head coverings indoors. Officials said they implemented the code to stem gang-related activity. Hern declined to remove her hijab, saying it would violate the way she observes her religion.
Officials at the school, the Ben Franklin Science Academy, previously summoned Hern to the office on September 11 to inform her she was no longer allowed to wear the scarf. She had worn it since the school year started a few weeks earlier.
A school attorney said federal education rules adopted in 1998 do not allow for exceptions for religious beliefs.
"As I see it right now, I don't think we can make a special accommodation for religious wear," said school attorney D.D. Hayes. "You treat religious items the same as you would as any other item, no better, no worse. Our dress code prohibits headgear, period."
He added that, under the dress code, a Jewish child would not be allowed to wear a yarmulke, the skullcap traditionally worn by orthodox Jews, to school.
Rabiah Ahmed, a spokeswoman for the Washington D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the Muslim girl is being singled out because of her religious beliefs.
The girl's father met with school officials Friday in a closed-door hearing to appeal the decision. The school board is expected to have a decision next Wednesday on whether the girl can return to school wearing her head scarf, officials said.