Linde McAvoy converted to Islam a few weeks after she enrolled in the Georgia Career Institute for cosmetology last December — so she started wearing a hijab to her classes.
But according to complaint letter to GCI, McAvoy "almost immediately" began getting harassed by GCI administrators.
"For example, Joyce Meadows — GCI's president and CEO, who is also the campus director for the Murfreesboro [Tennessee] campus — started insisting that Ms. McAvoy remove the hijab, citing the school's dress code," the letter from Muslim Advocates said. "Even after Ms. McAvoy explained that she wore her hijab out of religious obligation, Ms. Meadows insisted on its removal, despite the fact that the dress code does not prohibit religious head coverings. Ms. McAvoy was repeatedly ejected from her classes for wearing her hijab."
Nimra Azmi, a staff attorney at Muslim Advocates, told the Huffington Postthat it's "incredibly important for Muslim women to wear the hijab and get educated. We don't think those things are antithetical. We don't think that wearing the hijab is inherently unprofessional."
The complaint letter added that Meadows told McAvoy if she wanted to continue attending GCI she would have to remove her hijab while on campus or provide external confirmation that she wore the hijab for religious reasons — and McAvoy refused, saying the school cites no such requirement.
The letter said McAvoy continued to cover her hair at school, and then GCI expelled her in late February.
What did McAvoy have to say?
"I was expelled in a public space. It made the environment feel very hostile. It was pretty intimidating to have to choose [between] the career I'm trying to pursue and do for the rest of my life versus the religion that I'm following and hold dear to me and want to do well in," McAvoy told the Post. "I definitely felt targeted."
She added to the outlet that she was nervous about wearing a hijab, fearing some students might taunt her over her new religious beliefs — but her fellow students did no such thing.
"I was expecting more problems maybe from the students but definitely not from the teachers. That definitely came as a shock to me," McAvoy said.
What does McAvoy want?
The letter said because GCI "receives federal financial assistance" it's "obligated to comply with federal anti-discrimination mandates, including Title IX ... which prohibits sex discrimination in educational programs and activities." It added that McAvoy wants her tuition refunded, the school's dress code to specifically allow clothing based on religious beliefs, and for staff to receive anti-discrimination training.
What did the school have to say?
Meadows told the Huffington Post in a statement that McAvoy's allegations are "unfounded" and that the school's "staff, students and graduates represent every possible cultural, racial and religious group. No one has ever been expelled from the Institute for requirements of a religion."
She added to the outlet that she could not elaborate due to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects the privacy of student records.