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The seven-year-old girl at school in Maplewood, NJ, told her mother her teacher tried to pull her hijab off her head. This upset the child and the mother. The mother complained about it on Facebook.

End of story? No. Ibtihaj Muhammad, a famous Olympic medalist, denounced it as abuse in an Instagram post that went viral.

By the next day, Gov. Philip D. Murphy had weighed in on Twitter. A statewide Islamic group called for the teacher’s “immediate firing.”

One year later, the matter is in court. The girl’s family sued the school district and the teacher, Tamar Herman.  A court dismissed the suit. This month, the teacher filed a defamation suit. It accuses the Olympian and the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Rights (CAIR) of causing “irreparable harm.”

The facts remained unclear.

The teacher said in the lawsuit that she “brushed” back a hooded garment that was blocking the student’s eyes. She thought that the girl was wearing her typical “form-fitting” hijab underneath. She said she replaced the head covering right away and apologized to the girl once she realized her error.

Her lawsuit claims that Ms. Muhammad, the fencer, and CAIR-NJ were “motivated by a combination of greed and a fierce desire to burnish their brands as fighters against Islamophobia.” Her reputation was so damaged that she could never be hired by another public school district.

The lawsuit alleges that Ms. Herman is afraid for her safety. She has lived and taught in the community for 20 years. Now she has had to move out of her home.

Ms. Herman has said that the girl’s face was almost entirely covered by the mask the students were required to wear to slow the spread of Covid-19. And also a “hood.”

After realizing the girl was not wearing a hijab underneath, Ms. Herman “immediately brushed the hood back to cover all the student’s hair and apologized.” The hood never left the student’s head.

The story quickly went far beyond the school.

The head of CAIR wrote, “racist teachers like this cannot be trusted around our children.” He went on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and demanded that Ms. Herman be immediately terminated.

Ms. Muhammad, who has a large social media following, urged people to call and email the school.

“Imagine being a child and stripped of your clothing in front of your classmates,” she wrote. “Imagine the humiliation and trauma this experience has caused her. This is abuse.”

Over the next few weeks, the district fielded thousands of angry emails and calls.

Facebook groups from Maplewood were flooded with opinions. It got more heated when Ms. Herman’s Jewish faith was known.

Ms. Herman said she had been subjected to “antisemitic vitriol and hatred.”

What are the rights and wrongs here? What are the lessons? One is that any event can take on a life of its own. What really happened is buried by the opinions of people with their own agenda.

The world will move on, but some harm has been done.

Source: The New York Times October 18, 2022

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