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Muslim headwear stirs complaint at Northwest Indiana charter school

Attia-Kitten Teneé Gray 15 is photographed outside Hammond Academy Science Technology Hammond Ind. Friday March 29 2013. Gray sophomore was

Attia-Kitten Teneé Gray, 15, is photographed outside Hammond Academy of Science and Technology in Hammond, Ind. Friday March 29, 2013. Gray, a sophomore, was told to take off her hijab by a science teacher at her school. Her parents contacted Ball State University that sponsors the charter for the school. | Stephanie Dowell~ for Sun-Times Media

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Updated: May 1, 2013 3:21PM

The parents of a Muslim student say their daughter was discriminated against when a teacher sent her to the office for wearing traditional Muslim headwear called a hijab, but officials at her Hammond, Ind., school say the teacher was only following school policy regarding hats and head coverings.

Attia Gray, 15, a sophomore at the Hammond Academy of Science and Technology, said her teacher looked at her hijab on Tuesday and told her she couldn’t wear it. “I said I can’t take it off, it’s for religious purposes. She sent me down to the office.”

Principal Sean Egan said Attia had not worn a head covering all year so the teacher sent her to the office for clarification on the school policy.

Egan said the school has no problem with the head covering. Its policy pertains to baseball caps and other headwear.

“The main reason the teacher asked was she never wore it before,” he said. Egan described the headwear as a leopard print.

The explanation didn’t satisfy Attia’s parents, Kitten and Derrick Gray, who moved to Hammond from Chicago about three years ago. They sent a letter complaining to the charter school’s sponsor, Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., seeking an investigation into the incident and cultural diversity training for school staff, as well as an apology.

The Grays say Attia was ridiculed by other students after the teacher sent her to the principal and singled her out for wearing the hijab, considered a symbol of modesty in the Muslim religion.

“It’s kind of annoying because people are so immature,” said Attia. “It should be something that people understand and see every day.”

Attia, who wants to become a marine biologist, said she wore the hijab occasionally in eighth grade, but didn’t wear it last year. “I wear it when I want to or feel like it. The Muslim religion is about modesty so that’s why there’s a covering.”

Egan said Attia once said she wore the hijab in eighth grade because it was a “bad hair day.”

Egan said the school hosted a cultural diversity training earlier this year by a Purdue University Calumet professor. He said the school’s African-American population is about 30 percent out of an enrollment of about 475.

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