A Nashville charter school which was forced to remove one of its student-athletes from a volleyball match because of her hijab, is condemning the dress code enforced by the governing board. According to The Tennessean, Valor College Prep freshman, Najah Aqeel, was disqualified from playing Tuesday after a referee cited the hijab as a dress code violation.
The school then called on the National Federation of State High School Associations and the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA) to change the rule, which requires student-athletes to get permission if they want to wear head wear for religious purposes.
"TSSAA has always granted exceptions to any student that wishes to participate with head wear, or other articles of clothing, due to religious reasons," TSSAA assistant director Matthew Gillespie told the Tennessean. "The rule book states that an exception may be granted if requested by the administration of the school to the state association."
Valor College Prep athletic director Cameron Hill said requiring permission for an athlete to wear a religious head wear is "antiquated" and "oppressive."
"While we were able to get approval from the TSSAA and we now have the letter that will allow players to wear hijabs in the future, we feel this rule is discriminatory and is inequitable," Hill wrote in on Instagram.
The freshman volleyball player said she was disappointed when she learned that she has to request permission to wear her hijab.
“I was hurt, disappointed, angry and shocked just because I’ve never heard that rule before and I was like: ‘that’s really weird for me to have to send a letter in for me to wear my scarf,’” Aqeel told the Tennessean.
Still, the teenager is taking away positives from the incident.
“It made me see the world in a different light, and it just makes me believe in my religion a whole lot more now," she said. "And I just don’t want other people to have to go through it, so I just want to get the rule changed.”
The Valor College Prep athletic department has now established a policy which will prevent its sports teams from participating in a game "if any individual player is prevented from playing for any discriminatory reasons."
Hill said the school will "take any measure necessary to make it known that Valor opposes this unconscionable rule and will advocate it be changed."
"It makes me feel supported," Aqeel said. "My team and my school has decided to forfeit games if they don't allow me to play. It makes me feel like I'm a part of something."
TSSAA assistant director Matthew Gillespie said the rule is not only for religious head wear, but also for scarfs, bandanna or any other head gear which goes against the rule.
"The rule book does not specifically say that any student cannot wear an article on their head for religious reasons," Gillespie said. "However, these items fall under the restrictions of the rule."
According to FOX17, the American Muslim Advisory Council also called for the rule to be removed.
“Why should Muslim girls, who want to follow their constitutionally protected right, have an extra barrier to fully participate in sports in Tennessee?” AMAC Executive Director Sabina Mohyuddin said. “This rule was used to humiliate a 14-year-old student in front of her peers. It was traumatizing to say the least."
Mohyuddin said religious barriers shouldn't be a factor for Muslim girls playing sports, going on to say: "This rule is akin to telling Muslim girls that they need permission to be a Muslim."