A Massachusetts student and her family are fighting for her religious identity after her school says her hijab represented a school uniform infraction.
Aya Zeabi said her younger sister went to Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in Malden last week for her first day of school and had officially taken a “a huge step” to wear a hijab, a traditional Muslim head covering for women.
“No one wears a hijab lightly,” Zeabi said. “It takes a lot of reflection and confidence to decide that you’re ready for it and even more to practice wearing it everyday out in public, especially in such unfriendly times.”
The Mystic Valley Regional Charter School parent handbook for the 2022-2023 school year says, “Any kind of head covering, including hats, bandanas, and netting, are not allowed.”
And on at least two pages of the handbook the school says it, “will make reasonable accommodations for students with sincerely held religious beliefs or documented medical health issues.”
Zeabi said her younger sister “came home crying because of her own school’s racist and discriminatory actions.”
Zeabi, who also attended Mystic Valley, said this isn’t the first time the school had a problem with the hijab. Her older sister, Dalia, faced the same issue 10 years ago.
“She remained in in-school detention until we brought a signed letter from our masjid’s imam saying that the hijab was a religious covering and a major part of Islam and not something she did for fashion or fun,” Zeabi said.
In a statement provided to CNN, school Director and Superintendent Alexander Dan said: “Mystic Valley Regional Charter School wishes to express its regret at how the recent incident of one of our Muslim students who chose to express her faith by wearing the hijab was mishandled. It is our current policy to allow students to wear religious attire as an expression of their sincerely held beliefs,” he said.
“As part of this process, we request a letter expressing this desire from a member of their clergy. While we would like to reiterate that the well-respected staff member overseeing the process should bear no responsibility for what has transpired, we understand how our handling of the situation came across as insensitive and look forward to using this moment as a learning opportunity to improve our policies and procedures,” he continued.
The Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said it spoke to Zeabi’s family on Friday.
“As of today, Aug. 20, the family has authorized us to let you know that the immediate situation is under control, as the student is wearing her hijab in school,” CAIR said in a statement.
“We will continue to investigate what happened, review the policies of the school, and research applicable state and federal laws,” the statement added.
CNN’s Chris Boyette contributed to this report