An Olympic medal-winning fencer accused a teacher of humiliating a second-grade girl by allegedly pulling off the child's hijab in their New Jersey classroom, and officials said this week they are investigating the allegation.
Ibtihaj Muhammad, who won bronze in women's team sabre for Team USA five years ago in Rio, made allegations against the Seth Boyden Elementary School instructor in Maplewood, in an Instagram post on Wednesday.
Muhammad told her 381,000 Instagram followers that theteacher, Tamar Herman, "forcibly removed the hijab" of the second-grade girl as the "young student resisted."
The "teacher pulled the hijab off, exposing her hair to the class," according to Muhammad, who competed while wearing a hijab. "Herman told the student that her hair was beautiful and she did not have to wear hijab to school anymore."
Herman's lawyer, Ronald Ricci, said the teacher did nothing wrong, though he declined to discuss any interactions she and the child might have had on Wednesday.
"The versions depicted on social media are 100-percent untrue," Ricci told NBC News on Friday. "We're confident that after a full, fair investigation that it'll be found that Ms. Herman committed no wrong doing."
Muhammad did not explain her relationship with the second-grade girl in Thursday's social media post. The fencer also could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday.
Leonard Herman, the teacher's ex-husband, insisted she could not have done any such thing.
"It's not true, I know my ex-wife. I know she would never do something like that," Leonard Herman told NBC News on Friday.
The teacher is the daughter of a holocaust survivor and has socialized with Muhammad off school grounds, according to the ex-husband.
"My wife is friends of hers, they work out in the gym together," he said. "I don't know why she's doing this."
Herman has been put on leave by the the South Orange-Maplewood School District, according to Ricci.
"It's a normal course of action for any teacher in New Jersey that's tenured, with any type of allegation, that the appropriate route is for administrative leave with pay," Ricci said.
A district spokeswoman declined to say whether Herman was put on administrative leave, but confirmed she wasn't in class on Friday or for the second half of the instructional day on Thursday.
"Today, we were made aware of an allegation of discrimination and immediately began an investigation. The District takes matters of discrimination extremely seriously," according to a district statement on Thursday.
"This evening, we were alerted to social media posts related to the allegations. Social Media is not a reliable forum for due process and the staff member(s) involved are entitled to due process before any action is taken. We must abide by our legal obligations to keep personnel and student matters confidential."
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) of New Jersey said it was troubled by the allegations.
"Forcefully stripping off the religious headscarf of a Muslim girl is not only exceptionally disrespectful behavior, but also a humiliating and traumatic experience," CAIR said in a statement on Friday. "Muslim students already deal with bullying from peers, it’s unthinkable that a teacher would add to their distress."