UPDATE: Northwood High School has changed its headwear policy.
The parents of a Jewish student at are upset after the principal asked them to provide a letter from a rabbi justifying the kippah their son wore to school.
Last week Steven Tanenbaum’s 17-year-old son, Caleb, began coming to classes wearing a kippah sruga--a Jewish head covering that his mother had knitted for him.
When the administration told Caleb to remove the kippah, Caleb refused, saying that he wore it because he is Jewish, according to his father, Steven Tanenbaum. “He said, Call my mother. My mother made this for me,” Tanenbaum told Patch.
But even when his parents explained the situation, the principal asked for a letter of justification by Monday.
“Instead of saying that’s fine, the principal wanted a letter from a rabbi,” Tanenbaum said. “Our word was not good enough? We’re his parents!”
“At that point, I was really upset,” he added.
Caleb was born in Israel, according to his father, and lately the 17-year-old had decided to identify more with his roots by again wearing the traditional Jewish kippah, also known as yarmulke. The kippah, his father said, is a solid, off-white color with no symbols or markings--nothing that would identify it as gang-related. (Editor's Note: Tanenbaum has corrected this statement and )
“All students are allowed to wear head wear according to their designated religion,” Principal Henry Johnson wrote in an email to Patch. “Because our students are not allowed to wear hats and other head gear at school, students are asked for verification when their religious headwear is not traditional headwear that we are accustomed to seeing.”
The Tanenbaums asked Rabbi Shlomo Buxbaum, the director of Aish DC, to write the letter for the school, which included the following: “I just wanted to verify that the Tanenbaums are a practicing Jewish family who attend services and wearing the Kippah is an important part of our tradition. I ask you, in the spirit of religious acceptance, to allow him to wear his Kippah in the school.”
Buxbaum told Patch that he has never seen this happen before.
“The kippah demonstrates a sense of pride in who we are and a modesty in humbling one’s self before God,” Buxbaum said. “The fact that he would be discouraged is very disturbing.”
Johnson declined to discuss specific details of what happened with the Tanenbaums.
“I have a significant population of students of Jewish and Muslim faith and this has never been an issue before. We are very tolerant and sensitive to students' religions,” Johnson wrote in an email.
Although the school never took away the kippah, Tanenbaum said that his son was threatened with suspension at one point.
Tanenbaum said he complained to MCPS Superintendent Joshua Starr, as well as to the Anti-Defamation League and the Civil Liberties Union.
“I feel singled out in a discriminatory manner,” he said. “I honestly feel that because he was white and Jewish, he was singled out.”
Tanenbaum said he wants a letter of apology to the family, and a reform in the policy so that it is “clear and equal for everyone.” He asked the principal whether the school requires letters of justification from other spiritual leaders besides Judaism, but he said he did not receive an answer.
Meanwhile, Caleb continues wearing his kippah to school.