MAPLEWOOD — An attorney representing a teacher accused of pulling a religious covering off the head of a second-grade girl said social media spread misinformation about an innocent misunderstanding.

The accusation against the teacher came to light after Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad posted about it on her Instagram.

A friend of the girl's family, Muhammad said the South Orange-Maplewood teacher “forcibly removed the hijab" in front of the second-grade class at the Seth Boyden Elementary School, causing the student to be "humiliated and traumatized."

Muhammad is a Maplewood native and a friend of the girl's mother, according to RLS Metro Breaking News. She has not commented further on her social media.

In a statement to ABC 7 Eyewitness News and Maplewood Patch, attorney Samantha Harris said the teacher did not remove the hijab, a veil worn by Muslim women in the presence of any men outside of their immediate family, which covers the hair, head and chest.

"In accordance with school policy, (the teacher) directed a student in her class to pull down the hood on what appeared to be a hooded sweatshirt because it was blocking her eyes — and immediately rescinded that request when she realized that the student was wearing the hood in place of, rather than on top of, her usual hijab," the statement said.

Ibtihaj Muhammad (Team USA)

Police protection because of threats

Harris identified the teacher as Tamar Herman, who has asked for police protection because of threats she has received.

"This is not a story about a teacher forcibly removing a student’s hijab. This is a story about the power of social media to spread misinformation and destroy lives, and about the 'shoot first, ask questions later' approach to journalism," Harris wrote in a re-tweet of a news story about the incident.

Harris also accused unspecified "activists" of pushing a false narrative.

Before the teacher was able to offer an explanation, public figures were calling for action against her.

Cassandra Wyatt, the girl's mother, told ABC 7 Eyewitness News that she would like an apology from the teacher and that her action must have consequences.

Gov. Phil Murphy on his social media said he was "deeply disturbed" by the accusation and said that every student should feel safe and welcome in school, regardless of their race, religion, or culture.

"We call for the immediate firing of the Maplewood teacher who pulled off the headscarf of a young Muslim student. Anything less is an insult to the students and parents of Maplewood, NJ," the Muslim-American civil rights group CAIR-NJ wrote on its Twitter account.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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