Rochester school participates in World Hijab Day
Rochester, N.Y. - At a student's request, the World School of Inquiry in Rochester held World Hijab Day, Friday.
"Our school believes in diversity and inclusion," said World School of Inquiry Principal Sheela Webster, who approved the day along with the district.
Last month, Eman Muthana wrote a one page letter to Webster, asking her if the school could participate in World Hijab Day. Muthana wrote, "World Hijab Day invites every woman to wear the hijab for a day so they would experience how women who wear the hijab are treated by others. The purpose of this is to educate, and feel part of the school community."
Critics lashed out on social media as word spread about the public school's decision to partake in the day that some say violates the separation of church and state.
"As a high school teacher for over 30 years, let me say that this is wrong on so many levels," wrote Jim Farnholz. "All religions are taught in our global studies classes. That being said, that is where understanding, tolerance and the good and bad of religion and history are taught. This, however is a clear violation of separation of church and state."
Webster said this isn't the case, rather an opportunity for the World of Inquiry School to follow their mission of diversity and inclusion.
"Our perspective in it was not religious - it was really about experiential," explained Webster. "We are an experiential school; we engage kids in all kinds of activities and projects all of the time, so the perspective of being able to learn what a hijab is, why some women choose to wear it and why some women don't choose to wear it, and we provide the opportunity to experience it; it is well within the protocol of experiential learning."
Teachers brought in 150 scarves for those who wanted to participate in the voluntary day.
All were gone before the first bell rang.
"I love that we're having the open conversation. I think that's the first step into making it a more open and tolerant environment. I think this is the perfect school for it," said English-as-a-Second-Language teacher Kelly Lalonde.
"My background is Christian, but I feel like we should be able to co-exist, no matter what religion," said junior Ephraim Gebre, who chose to participate in the day by wearing a carnation. "[We should] tolerate each other, respect each other and at the end we can all be friends."
When asked about her critics, Muthana said, "They can say whatever they want, I'm proud of who I am and I'm standing for who I am."
Muthana said Friday was a chance for her to share her culture with those who wanted to know more.
"I just feel proud that I'm sharing my culture and actually not forcing that on them, because everybody has the choice to do that so. I just feel happy that they are supporting me," said Muthana. "We are in America; everybody has the freedom of religion, I cannot force anything. And also, I cannot do anything bad to a country that opened its door for me."
A district spokesman told 13WHAM News they consulted with a lawyer about today's event. The lawyer said there would be more of a legal issue if the school said no to this event.
The district has received about two dozen negative calls in response to the event.
You can see the full interview with Eman Muthana in the media section of this story.