MAPLEWOOD, N.J. -- A New Jersey family is expressing outrage after they say a teacher pulled the hijab off the head of a 7-year old Muslim girl.
The mother of Sumayyah Wyatt's mother, Cassandra Wyatt, told our sister station WABC-TV that her daughter is no longer interested in wearing the Muslim garb after the incident at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, a suburb about 15 miles west of New York City.
"I have to go introduce her to a different world that I've been trying to protect her from," Cassandra Wyatt said.
The family's lawyer said the second-grader has always worn a headscarf to school as a part of her Muslim faith.
But on Wednesday, the teacher allegedly told her to remove it. When she resisted, the teacher yanked it off in front of the entire class, the attorney said.
"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 she's always told her daughter that her hijab is her protection.
"Now she's asked me, 'Well, if this is my protection, my teacher took this off of my head.' So how can you explain to your child?" she said.
The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations compared the alleged incident to "harassment" and "assault."
"The hijab is much like any other article of clothing for a Muslim woman. To remove that publicly can be very humiliating," said Selaedin Maksut, CAIR-NJ's executive director.
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 school district has not confirmed the teacher's identity, WABC-TV reported.
"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 family's attorney said he is working to help the family get a resolution, but their focus is now on Sumayyah.
The teacher's alleged actions sparked public backlash after fencer and Olympic medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad, who is also from Maplewood, took to Facebook to shed light on the incident. Muhammad became the first American Olympic athlete to wear a hijab during the 2016 Summer Games.
"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."
The New Jersey school has since received hundreds of calls asking for the elementary school teacher's removal.
"Anyone that thinks it's OK to do this to a student clearly is not fit to be a teacher," Maksut said.