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Mystic Valley Regional Charter School criticized for citing eighth-grader wearing hijab

Exterior of Mystic Valley Regional Charter School in 2010.Jonathan Wiggs Staff/Photographe

Mystic Valley Regional Charter School is once again facing accusations of discrimination after an eighth-grader was cited by a staff member for a “uniform infraction” for wearing a hijab at the Malden school last week.

An image of the “School Uniform Compliance Form” the student received Thursday was posted on Facebook and Instagram by a family member, who noted that “hijab” is misspelled on the document as “jihab.”

The school, which has previously come under criticism for its treatment of Black, immigrant, and LGBTQ+ students, issued a statement Saturday saying it regrets how “the recent incident of one of our Muslim students who chose to express her faith by wearing the hijab was mishandled.”

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“This experience has shown us that we can and need to adjust our practices,” the school said.

The school acknowledged that its “handling of the situation came across as insensitive” and said students may “wear religious attire as an expression of their sincerely held beliefs,” but they must provide “a letter expressing this desire from a member of their clergy.”

The student has since resumed wearing her hijab in school, according to the Massachusetts chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which said in a statement that it is representing the student and her family and will investigate the incident.

“We are all justifiably concerned about this young student and want to make sure that she is safe, and that her religious rights are respected and protected,” the statement said.

City officials and local leaders condemned the incident as the photograph of the form circulated online late last week.

Nichole Mossalam, former director of the Malden Islamic Center, said in a Facebook post Friday that when she was with the center, she helped write “many letters” for students at the charter school so they could get their “uniform exemption” approved.

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“Wearing a hijab is not easy,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday night. “It’s a spiritual commitment I’ve made as an expression of my faith, and our young women deserve an opportunity to discover who they are and develop a relationship with our God, free from discrimination from those who are in leadership over them and those who they look up to.

“Educators have a special role in the development of our children, so this not only causes harm to their emotional development but also their spiritual development and their self-confidence,” she added. “So it is my sincere hope the school will honor its statement and commitment to engage in dialogue with the faith community and meet with religious leaders to create better policy for the sake of all our children.”

Mossalam said she was contacted by the school Saturday for help resolving the situation.

“I offered some constructive feedback, which I was very happy to see included in the statement,” she said, referring to the school’s Saturday statement.

Mossalam said she is working to organize a meeting between school officials and religious leaders for “mediation and dialogue.” She said the school has demonstrated “goodwill in making a commitment to seek input from the religious community.”

Malden Mayor Gary Christenson released a statement saying he was “saddened” by the incident and he encouraged the school’s leadership to “create a policy that better reflects the open-minded approach we all must commit to.”

“Our city will remain committed as ever to supporting and embracing every race, religion and background that makes up this vibrant community and will continue to hold each other accountable as part of that commitment,” Christenson said in the statement.

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City Councilor Ryan O’Malley, in a statement on Facebook, called the school a “pariah” in the community and called for the state to revoke the school’s charter.

“Malden cannot continue to be the host community for such a bigoted school,” O’Malley wrote.

The school and its dress code have garnered the spotlight before. In 2017, twin sisters Deanna and Mya Cook received detention and were prohibited from attending prom because they wore braids with extensions, which was not allowed under the school’s policy.

The rule was eventually dropped, and a state law barring discrimination on the basis of a person’s natural hairstyle or hair texture was signed into law by Governor Charlie Baker last month.

Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story inaccurately described a statement released by the charter school on Saturday. The Globe regrets the error.


Nick Stoico can be reached at nick.stoico@globe.com.