Muslim headwear stirs complaint at Hammond charter
By Carole Carlson email@example.com/648-3154 March 29, 2013 11:56AM
Attia-Kitten Teneé Gray, 15, is photographed outside Hammond Academy of Science and Technology in Hammond, Ind. Friday March 29, 2013. Gray, a sophomore, was told to take off her hijab by a science teacher at her school. Her parents contacted Ball State University that sponsors the charter for the school. | Stephanie Dowell~ for Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 1, 2013 2:45PM
HAMMOND — The parents of a Muslim student say their daughter was discriminated against when a teacher sent her to the office for wearing traditional Muslim headwear called a hijab, but school officials say the teacher was only following school policy regarding hats and head coverings.
Attia Gray, 15, a sophomore at the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, said her teacher looked at her hijab on Tuesday and told her she couldn’t wear it. “I said I can’t take it off, it’s for religious purposes. She sent me down to the office.”
Principal Sean Egan said Attia had not worn a head covering all year so the teacher sent her to the office for clarification on the school policy.
Egan said the school has no problem with the head covering. Its policy pertains to baseball caps and other headwear.
“The main reason the teacher asked was she never wore it before,” he said. Egan described the headwear as a leopard print.
The explanation didn’t satisfy Attia’s parents, Kitten and Derrick Gray, who moved to Hammond from Chicago about three years ago. They sent a letter complaining to the charter school’s sponsor, Ball State University, seeking an investigation into the incident and cultural diversity training for school staff, as well as an apology.
The Grays say Attia was ridiculed by other students after the teacher sent her to the principal and singled her out for wearing the hijab, considered a symbol of modesty in the Muslim religion.
“It’s kind of annoying because people are so immature,” said Attia. “It should be something that people understand and see everyday. I try to ignore the ignorant comments and keep a positive attitude.”
Attia, who wants to become a marine biologist, said she wore the hijab occasionally in eighth grade, but didn’t wear it last year.
“I wear it when I want to or feel like it. The Muslim religion is about modesty so that’s why there’s a covering.”
Egan said Attia once said she wore the hijab in eighth grade because it was a “bad hair day.”
Kitten Gray said she was raised Muslim in Harvey and was required to wear the hijab to school. She said she never required Attia to wear it because she remembered how she was ridiculed by classmates.
“Both times she took it upon herself to dress in the head tie. I know she’s growing up, teenagers go through rough things, teens embrace their religion,” Gray said.
Egan said the school hosted a cultural diversity training earlier this year by a Purdue Calumet professor. He said the school’s African-American population is about 30 percent out of an enrollment of about 475.
Egan said students didn’t mock Attia.
“None of them indicated anything but support for her. They celebrate diversity and uniqueness. Rather than snickering about it, they were proud of her.”