Tamar Herman is a teacher at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood, New Jersey who was accused on social media of forcibly removing a 7-year-old girl’s hijab in front of her class. Olympian Ibtihaj Muhammad identified the teacher in an Instagram post. The school district has not confirmed the identity of the teacher.
Samantha Harris, an attorney representing the teacher, said in a statement to ABC 7 News the incident was wildly misconstrued on social media, and that her client has been forced to seek police protection in response to outrage based on misinformation.
Cassandra Wyatt, the mother of 2nd grader Sumayyah Wyatt, told ABC 7 New York that the girl no longer wants to wear her headscarf to school.
The School District of South Orange & Maplewood issued a statement Friday, October 8, 2021, saying they are investigating the allegations and following their existing policy.
“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 statement said in part. “We put the words into action as exemplified by our adoption of an intentional integration plan, creation of an Assistant Superintendent position focused on Access & Equity and engagement with outside equity experts.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Herman’s Attorneys Said She Will Be Cleared of Wrongdoing
Ronald Ricci, Herman’s attorney, told NBC News that he is confident his client will be cleared of any wrongdoing once a full investigation takes place.
“The versions depicted on social media are 100-percent untrue,” Ricci told NBC News. “We’re confident that after a full, fair investigation that it’ll be found that Ms. Herman committed no wrong doing.”
Ricci told NBC News Herman was placed on leave.
“It’s a normal course of action for any teacher in New Jersey that’s tenured, with any type of allegation, that the appropriate route is for administrative leave with pay,” Ricci told NBC News.
Harris detailed the incident in an statement to ABC 7 News, and said her client was not trying to remove the student’s hijab.
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.
2. Cassandra Wyatt Said the Teacher Should Apologize & Others Called for the Teacher to be Fired
An attorney for the Wyatt family told ABC 7 New York that the girl wears her hijab to school every day, but said that on October 6, 2021, the teacher forcibly removed it.
“Ultimately, the teacher succeeds in pulling the hijab off her head, followed by a bizarre statement which is, ‘Your hair is beautiful,'” the attorney told the news station. “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 told the news outlet that she wants the teacher to face consequences.
“She had to know that was a hijab,” she told ABC 7. “She has to pay for that. I’d love for her to apologize to my daughter, and then my daughter would feel better.”
Organizations and members of the public are calling for the teacher to be fired. The New Jersey office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote on Twitter to “call for the immediate firing” of the teacher.
CAIR NJ’s Twitter thread said:
Muslim students already deal with bullying from peers, it’s unthinkable that a teacher would add to their distress. Islamophobia in our public schools must be addressed in NJ. Classrooms are a place for students to feel safe and welcome, not fear practicing their faith. Forcefully stripping off the religious headscarf of a Muslim girl is not only exceptionally disrespectful behavior, but also a humiliating and traumatic experience. We call for the immediate firing of the Maplewood teacher who pulled off the headscarf of a young Muslim student. Anything less is an insult to the students and parents of Maplewood, NJ.
3. Muhammad, an Olympic Fencer, Drew a Public Spotlight to the Allegations With an Instagram Post
Muhammad posted about the allegations on Instagram October 7, 2021, naming the teacher as Tamar Herman and describing the teacher’s alleged actions as abuse.
Yesterday, Tamar Herman, a teacher at Seth Boyden Elementary in Maplewood, NJ forcibly removed the hijab of a second grade student. The young student resisted, by trying to hold onto her hijab, but the teacher pulled the hijab off, exposing her hair to the class. Herman told the student that her hair was beautiful and she did not have to wear hijab to school anymore. 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. Schools should be a haven for all of our kids to feel safe, welcome and protected— no matter their faith. We cannot move toward a post-racial America until we weed out the racism and bigotry that still exist in all layers of our society. 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.
The school district issued a statement saying they were made aware of the allegations through social media. The statement said the school district “takes matters of discrimination extremely seriously.” However, they said social media is not the place to draw investigative conclusions.
“Social Media is not a reliable forum for due process and the staff member(s) involved are entitled to due process before any action is taken,” the statement said. “We must abide by our legal obligations to keep personnel and student matters confidential. 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.”
4. Wyatt Said Her Daughter Had Viewed Her Hijab as Her Protection
Wyatt told WABC-TV that the alleged incident has prompted difficult conversations with her 2nd-grade daughter. Sumayyah Wyatt told her mother she no longer wanted to wear her head covering, Cassandra Wyatt told the news outlet.
“I have to go introduce her to a different world that I’ve been trying to protect her from,” Wyatt told the news station.
Wyatt said in the interview she had taught her daughter that her head covering 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.
5. Herman Is Friends With Muhammad, Said Her Ex-Husband, Who Came to Her Defense
The ex-husband of the teacher, Leonard Herman, came to her defense in an interview with NBC News.
“It’s not true, I know my ex-wife. I know she would never do something like that,” Herman told NBC News.
Herman said his ex-wife is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, and said she and Muhammad are friends who work out at the gym together.
“I don’t know why she’s doing this,” he said of Muhammad in the NBC News interview.