UPDATED: Maryland Teen Must Convince High School He Needs A Kippa
02/05/12
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 A Jewish student at a Maryland high school was asked to prove that he wore a head covering for religious reasons.

Caleb Tanenbaum, 17, was asked by the administration of Northwood High School in Silver Spring to provide a letter from a rabbi explaining that he was wearing his Rastafarian-style head covering for Jewish religious reasons. A school rule forbids all headwear, with the exception of students who verify that their headwear is religious in nature. Other students also have been asked for verification.

The school's principal, Henry Johnson, said Tanenbaum was asked to provide verification because he only recently began wearing the head covering and it did not appear to be a kippah.

"This is the first time that I’ve ever had to question any type of religious headwear by a Jewish student," Johnson told JTA. "Although we know he’s Jewish, we’ve never seen him with any type of Jewish headwear in the three years he’s been here. He has dreadlocks, and he had headwear on that covered his entire head.

"The reason that I questioned this is because I was dealing at the same time with another student claiming he's Rastafarian, and both have on the same type of headwear. I didn’t recognize that type of headwear. It was not a yarmulke or a kippah."

The student's father, Steve Tanenbaum, told a local newspaper, the Wheaton Patch, that his son was threatened with suspension, but Johnson said that wasn't true. Tanenbaum reportedly complained to the school district, the Anti-Defamation League and the American Civil Liberties Union about the incident and demanded an apology.

Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum, the director of Aish DC, wrote a letter to the school that said, according to Patch, "I ask you, in the spirit of religious acceptance, to allow him to wear his kippah in the school.”

After the Patch report appeared, Jewish community members rallied to the principal's defense, saying he has a stellar track record accommodating Jewish students. The school is located in a heavily Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, Kemp Mill, and about 15-20 kippah-wearing students attend the 1,500-student high school.

"Because I have to be sensitive to our students, we plan schedules around their religion, we prepare kosher meals for our students for special occasions, like an honor roll pizza party, and we also make sure there are kosher meals for our teachers for Teacher Appreciation Week," Johnson told JTA.

Johnson said the rule requiring students to verify that their headgear is religious is a necessity.

"I have kids who come in every day and claim that they’re this or that," Johnson said. "The only headwear t

Last Update:

02/12/2012 - 17:01

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I would just like to add that the picture on the MCPS website that everyone keeps referring to shows a little boy wearing a turban. This is a common head cover used for religious purposes by many people including people of the Sikh faith. They are mainly from the Punjab region and there are many students of this faith in Montgomery County.

Look, Mr. Tanenbaum, you keep bringing up how great your kids private school was so great, then why did you take your kid out and put him such a shoddy school system? Sir, You have no idea what the head gear rule is in place for, as a student i have severe adhd, Bright colors and reflections distract me, when they're eye level with me it is hard to concentrate. And if you DARE say that that's a personal problem, and that i should be on drugs to help me, I swear you just insulted over half of montgomery county and by allowing your kid gets to wear a rasta cap and call it a yarmulke then what's stopping anyone else form saying their du-rag is a turban. And i bet you that kid on the website is probably a stock photo or it was taken after school which MANY of these pictures are. cut it out this is getting sad. like a fresh fish on a dry dock.

1st off, my son WAS THREATENED with suspension by several school employees. 2nd, the issue is DISCRIMINATION. No other kid anywhere in the county needed a letter from their spiritual leader. Now, the policy is clear, a parents word is enough. It has been changed. 3rd, it is unfair that some kids can wear hats in some schools, and other schools they can't; its like the gangs have won by determining what head wear our children can wear. 4th, my son has always wore unique large kippas, speaks perfect Hebrew, and is proud to be Israeli/American Jew. He can express it in any unique manner he likes. To judge him and expect every Jewish skull cap to look the same is closed minded. Just look at the head wear of the many religious leaders in the world, Popes, Chief Rabbis, Kassims, and you will see that my sons was really not that radical.
People need to chill out,and are missing the point.They need to learn to stand up for what they believe in, and realize that they can change discriminatory and unfair policies.

Thank you Dr. Johnson. Because I know you would never discriminate in this way. Everyone knows the truth and your school community supports you. Its the rest of the community who don't know the truth and will read this and other articles with no clarity.

This student is being dishonest and anyone from this school...be it students or teachers can tell you that he does what ever he has to get attention. It sounds like such an interesting story that everyone just prints it...Since when has dreadlocks been a jewish style? Since when has a Tam 'O Shanter become a religious head covering? He started calling it a Kippah because he knows how to be dishonest. No other jewish student in this school has ever been asked to remove a kippah. This is a bogust story and if it were true....it would be worth reading and following. Shame! SMH

1) I am the young man’s father, and this issue is more serious than it may appear. The MCPS policy allows for, and even encourages principles to discriminate by allowing them to set their own dress code policy at their individual school, and there is no specific county wide due process policy spelled out.
2) The principle asking the parents for verification of a head covering is one thing, but to require a letter of a spiritual leader is another. I wonder how many people in our county have had to do the same. So far, I know of NONE! This is discrimination.
3) I don’t see the point in a policy of no head coverings in some schools, and ok in others. More gang related incidents occur over sneakers, yet there is no ban on sneakers........
4) Yes, if a an article of clothing is provocative, or gang related, it should not be allowed in the school, but any clothing not provocative or gang related should be allowed in ALL county schools, not just in some of them.
5) The point is not just to allow "my kid to wear a beanie", (as someone has stated) but to ensure that every child is treated equally, and not discriminated against. When I asked the principle if he required a letter from any other religious leader, from any of the many other students that wore head coverings at the school, I received no answer. This is unacceptable.
6) Policies need to be clear, apply to ALL, and not be discriminatory, as well as to have a clear due process to remedy any discrepancies that may arise.
7) If one looks at the Montgomery County Public Schools web site, the kid pictured on the top left is wearing a hat bigger than my sons head covering! I bet he did not have to get a letter from his spiritual leader!
8) If one were to go into one of the Jewish Day Schools in the area, they would see similar head coverings as my son had on, baseball hats, etc... There are even kippas with smiley faces, Bart Simpson, basketballs etc…picture on them! I have many pictures from the private Jewish school my son attended before Northwood that prove this. Also, look at the head coverings worn in Israel by the chief Rabbis; Rabbi Ovadia Yosef for example. Would they be harassed and discriminated against because of their dress? Even the Pope, Rabbis of Israel, Kasim of Ethiopia, Muftis and Imams, African tribes, and many others all wear expressive head wear.
9) It’s time to let kids be kids. Let them be unique and express themselves. Principles need to worry more about education, cell phones in class, and bullying more than making an issue over kippas and non-offensive head coverings.

I'm not so sure about the wisdom of a Jewish kid seeming to boss the school district around. For example, the country of France has a no Muslim veil policy in schools and all kinds of schools in the US have a "no gang colors, no gang uniform" policy. I mean, maybe it's fine to let "Jewish kids" look like the boss of the school. However, wouldn't such an impression feed into anti-semetic prejudice? At least if there has been a legitimately created and objectively followed "religious exception" to a no (gang or not) headware policy? If there has been a legitimately created and objectively followed "religious exception" to a no headware policy, and if the policy has been followed in this instance, but then all the non-Jewish kids now see a new "Jewish kids get to push around the administration because they litigate and sue" exception, then, rather than getting other kids to want to wear yamika's, you just get other kids sort of banding together against the Jewish kids, and this is not the result you want.

But don't take me too seriously. I'm just tagging here at one of my favorite walls, The Jewish Week.

This story is shoddy journalism and was done without any fact checking. In fact, this high school principal has an exceptional reputation for welcoming observant Jewish students. Several Jewish students wear kippot every day, and principal provides kosher food at school-wide events and makes sure that major school events are not on Friday night so that Shabbat-observant students can attend.

For a more balanced story, read the Washington Post, which explains that the student was wearing a Rastafarian-style hat (which violated the school's dress code) over his dreadlocks, which in no way resembled a kippah or religious head covering: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/maryland-schools-insider/post/montgomery-student-needed-a-rabbis-note-to-wear-yarmulke-to-school/2012/02/03/gIQAg4YKnQ_blog.html

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