An estimated 350 students protested outside Fairfax High School Thursday morning after they say a student assaulted a Muslim student and pulled off her hijab. The protesters said they were both upset by the attack and by the school’s response.
Ekran Mohamed, the sophomore who says she was attacked, says both she and the male student who allegedly pulled off her hijab were given one-day in-school suspensions and forced to serve them on Wednesday in the same room.
Fairfax City Police say the incident was initially reported as a medical call, but when they learned more details Thursday they began an investigation.
The incident happened Tuesday afternoon during a marketing class. Mohamed and eyewitness Eliza Gill say several students made offensive drawings referencing Muslims, Jews, and George Floyd. The girls say they initially confronted the students about the drawings but then decided to leave them alone when they became more aggressive.
The students allegedly made offensive comments and one got very close to Mohamed.
“My backpack bumped into him, and then he got mad, and he pushed me, and he grabbed my hijab,” she said. “So I punched him in the stomach because he wouldn’t let go. And he threw me across the room and I hit my whole left side on the chair and desk.”
MORE ON FAIRFAX: Fairfax County survey asks students 12 and up about sex life, dating life, home life
Mohamed says she eventually wound up on the floor and had difficulty breathing. An ambulance was called but she was not transported to the hospital. Instead, Gill says Mohamed was treated later at a medical clinic.
Mohamed and other students say they are not happy with the school’s response.
“The school is trying to cover it up, and said I had a panic attack, which did not happen,” Mohamed said.
Fairfax County Public Schools put out a statement Thursday reading:
“At 8:10 a.m. today, (12/16) approximately 350 students at Fairfax High School exercised their right to protest following an incident between two students that took place in school on Tuesday afternoon. The school is conducting an investigation into the incident and no further details can be shared at this stage as administrators work to establish the facts. Fairfax County Public Schools and City of Fairfax Schools support the rights of students to peacefully protest.”
READ MORE: Suit alleging admissions discrimination at Fairfax County school moves forward
7News asked why Mohamed and the student who allegedly attacked her were both given the same punishment and made to serve their suspensions in the same classroom, but FCPS did not give an explanation.
Fairfax County school board member Abrar Omeish, who says she is the first elected Virginia official to wear a hijab, came to the school Thursday and said although she’s awaiting a further explanation, she has concerns about the way the school system responded to the incident, particularly the punishment in the same classroom.
“That’s entirely unacceptable, and that’s something I want to go back with staff to see how we can do better in the future,” Omeish told 7 News.
In a statement, Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said:
“It is the responsibility of administrators and educators to ensure the safety of all students, and by allowing the suspected assailant to return to school - where he reportedly threatened more students - they have failed in that duty. This incident must be investigated as a possible hate crime by law enforcement, and the alleged assailant must be suspended while the investigation takes place.”
Omeish says she experienced incidents as a Fairfax County public school student in which students tried to pull off her hijab, and current Fairfax High students say Muslims are still targets of discrimination.
“I was disappointed but not surprised (about Tuesday’s incident),” said Fairfax High senior Hiba Abdelgalil, a Sudanese-American Muslim. “The school isn’t doing much to avoid it.”
“It makes me feel out of place even though I’ve been here all my life,” said Fairfax High student Hussein Hamdan. “It wasn’t surprising whatsoever. I mean, I’ve been living in this county, I’ve been going to Fairfax every year of high school. The hate is so prominent.”
7News called a phone number linked to the family of the student who allegedly pulled Mohamed’s hijab off. A woman answered the phone and said she didn’t have a comment at this time.
7News is not naming the student because he is a minor and has not been charged with a crime.