A second grade teacher accused of pulling a hijab from the head of a student in the South Orange-Maplewood School District will not face criminal charges, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office announced Wednesday.
The agency said it investigated the alleged bias incident at Seth Boyden Elementary School on Oct. 6 and declined to charge the teacher, Tamar Herman.
"Following a full investigation and a thorough review of all the available evidence and the applicable law, the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has concluded that there is insufficient evidence to sustain a criminal prosecution in this case," the office said in a brief, two-paragraph statement.
"While we understand that many may find the incident troubling, as prosecutors we have a legal and moral obligation to only bring charges in cases where we believe we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime has been committed. For those reasons, we will not move forward with this case."
The teacher allegedly told the Muslim student that her hair was "beautiful" and she didn't need to cover it at school and then began pulling the hijab from the girl's head.
Herman has said the incident was a misunderstanding. She said she asked the student to raise the hood of her sweatshirt because it was covering her eyes and she brushed up the front of the hood. The child, she said, was not wearing her usual hijab underneath.
John Kelly, a friend of the teacher's who has been acting as a spokesperson for her, declined to comment on the prosecutor's decision. He referred to Herman's previous statement, which also emphasized her love of teaching.
An attorney for the student's family, Robert Tarver, said the girl has worn the hijab every day she has been in class, so the teacher “would have to have knowledge that she wore a head covering for religious purposes.”
Tarver said another student in the classroom witnessed and verified the second grader’s account.
Islamophobia in the classroom: Hijab allegations underscore broader problem, teachers say
The child's mother, Cassandra Wyatt, said her daughter is still shaken by the incident. She spoke during a Jan. 6 press conference announcing a pending lawsuit against the teacher and the school district. The lawsuit has not yet been filed.
"I always told her her hijab was her protection," she said. "Now she's asking me. She said other kids don't wear it, and she explained if her teacher could take if off her head, she's afraid other people will try to take her hijab off."
The incident gained international attention last year after Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad, a Maplewood native, posted about it on Instagram. Muhammad was the first Muslim American Olympian to compete for the U.S. in a hijab.
The teacher was suspended after the incident. It's not clear whether she will be reinstated now that the Prosecutor's Office has declined to file charges.
In a statement emailed Wednesday, the school district said it "does not comment on personnel matters and we have no new update to share."
"The district thanks the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office for their time, effort and thorough review in regards to this investigation," continued the statement, provided by district Communications Director Anide Eustache. "As a district we are not privy to the details of their investigation, but we trust and respect their decision. While the Essex County Prosecutor's Office has wrapped up and shared the results of their investigation, 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."
Hannan Adely is a diversity reporter covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, bias and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: Maplewood NJ teacher in hijab case won't face charges, prosecutor says