Law & Courts

Okla. District, Muslim Student Dispute Head Scarf

By Marianne D. Hurst — October 22, 2003 1 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

A Muslim student who was suspended twice by her Oklahoma school district for wearing a head scarf was back in school last week.

Nashala Hearn, a 6th grader who attends the 400-student Benjamin Franklin Science Academy in Muskogee, was suspended for a total of eight days this month for violating the district’s dress code. The girl’s parents said she wore the veil for religious reasons, and they have threatened to sue the district.

“It’s an issue of safety,” said Eldon Gleichman, the superintendent of the 6,300-student Muskogee district. Its long-standing dress code prohibits students from wearing any type of headgear, including caps, hats, and scarves.

Mr. Gleichman said allowing an exception to the policy for religious reasons would undermine it by showing favoritism to a specific group and compromise the religious neutrality of the public school system.

Lawsuit Threatened

The Rutherford Institute, a legal-advocacy group based in Charlottesville, Va., plans to file a lawsuit against the district if the policy isn’t altered. The group says the policy violates students’ rights to free speech, expression, and exercise of religion.

According to district officials, Nashala started the school year wearing a transparent veil, but then began to appear with her head, chin, nose, and mouth fully covered. She also requested and took time to pray during instructional time, Mr. Gleichman said, which he maintains was disruptive and interrupted her education.

The issue came to a head on Sept. 11, when the school’s principal asked her to remove the veil, district officials said. When she refused to do so, she was suspended this month, first for three days and then for five days.

The student’s parents, who met with district officials last week, have agreed to send their daughter back to school for two weeks, wearing only the light veil.

Charles Haynes, a senior scholar with the First Amendment Center in Nashville, Tenn., said Oklahoma law specifically protects the student’s right to wear the head scarf.

“The school district would be wise to rewrite its policy,” he said, to include an exemption from the dress code for religious reasons.


English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts Can Public Money Go to Religious Schools? A Divisive Supreme Court Case Awaits
The justices will weigh Maine's exclusion of religious schools from its "tuitioning" program for students from towns without high schools.
13 min read
The Carson family pictured outside Bangor Christian School in Bangor, Maine on Nov. 5, 2021.
Institute for Justice senior attorney Michael E. Bindas, left, accompanies Amy and David Carson who flank their daughter, Olivia, outside Bangor Christian Schools in Maine in early November. The Carsons are one of two families seeking to make religious schools eligible for Maine's tuition program for students from towns without high schools.
Linda Coan O’Kresik for Education Week
Law & Courts Students Expelled, Suspended for 'Slavery' Petition Sue District
The lawsuit claims the officials violated the students’ First Amendment, due process, and equal protection rights.
3 min read
Image of a gavel.
Marilyn Nieves/E+
Law & Courts Infowars' Alex Jones Ordered to Pay Damages to Sandy Hook Families in Defamation Lawsuits
The Sandy Hook families will have an opportunity to present to a jury the extent to which Alex Jones' hoax claims harmed them.
Zach Murdock, Hartford Courant
5 min read
Alex Jones speaks outside of the Dirksen Senate office building in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 5, 2018. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday, April 5, 2021, declined to hear an appeal by the Infowars host and conspiracy theorist, who was fighting a Connecticut court sanction in a defamation lawsuit brought by relatives of some of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Alex Jones speaks outside of the Dirksen Senate office building in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 5, 2018.
Jose Luis Magana/AP Photo
Law & Courts In a Major Ruling on School Masks, Federal Judge Sides With Vulnerable Students
The ruling that a Texas ban on mask mandates discriminated against students with disabilities could reverberate elsewhere.
5 min read
Juliana Ramirez, 8, a third grader, often crawled into her closet to minimize distractions from her younger siblings when Zooming into school during lockdown last year.
Juliana Ramirez, a 3rd grader, often crawled into her closet to minimize distractions from her younger siblings when Zooming into school during lockdown last year.
Julia Robinson for Education Week