WOODBRIDGE, Va. - A northern Virginia school district is doing damage control after their own administrators targeted two Muslim students for wearing their hijabs at school.
The controversy boiled over last week at Freedom High school in Woodbridge, when two students were called into their principal’s office for wearing their hijabs. The school’s administrators were apparently unaware that students are allowed to wear the head coverings at school for religious reasons, without the need for a note.
Prince William County Public Schools posted an apology online, saying they regret the circumstances that led an administrator to question students about wearing a hijab, or ask for proof of their religious reasons.
“She said, ‘You guys need to carry around a note at all times because some of the students at the school wear hijabs or headscarves because they didn't lay down their edges, or take out their tracks.’ That's what she told me,” said Haja Bah, one of two Muslim students who say they have been harassed by administrators for wearing their hijabs.
“I would wear the hijab to school and administrators would stop me in the hallway, and they would say, ‘Ok you need to take off your hijab. Do you have a note?’ And I would say no, and they were like, ‘You have to get a note, or else they’re going to send you home,’” said Fatmata Mansaray, the other student. Both girls are seniors at Freedom High School.
Mansaray says even having a note on file didn’t stop the questions from administrators. Instead, they told her she had to have the note with her—and not just on file—to wear her hijab.
Bah says the tipping point was Thursday, during Ramadan, when she says the school’s assistant principal approached her as she was sitting outside with friends.
“She was like, ‘You in the purple hijab, you need to take it off. If you don’t take it off, you’re going to get sent home,’” Bah said.
She refused, telling the administrator she was fasting and it was her religion.
“The next day after school, people started protesting with me. People who are not even Muslim were wearing hijabs as well to protest with us,” Bah said. “That's when I felt like they apologized because it was getting a lot of attention.”
The attention was fueled by this Mansaray's Twitter post that caught the eye of the district's associate superintendent, who immediately scolded Freedom's administration reminding them their actions were inconsistent with the Prince William County Public Schools' commitment to diversity and religious freedom.
The district has since apologized to anyone it may have offended.
In a statement posted online, Prince William County Schools said the following:
“We regret the circumstances that led a Freedom High School administrator to question students about wearing a hijab or ask for proof of their religious reasons. The request was inconsistent with the PWCS commitment to diversity and religious freedom, and we apologize to anyone it may have offended.
“Prince William County Public Schools believe diversity and self-expression are fundamental to the strength of our community. The individual and a Division administrator are already reaching out to apologize to the students and families involved.
“This situation spotlights a regrettable inconsistency between our official policies and beliefs, and the reality of how things are sometimes done. That inconsistency will end. We are committed to using this incident as an opportunity to ensure that respect for diversity, religious freedom and self-expression are practiced and evident every day and at every school.”
FOX 5 asked for a response to these specific incidences, but a spokesperson refused to respond, saying, “They will not respond, point by point, on the situation.”
FOX 5 has learned that both girls’ families are considering legal action.