After outcry, Md. student-athletes no longer require waiver for religious head coverings

The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association has lifted its ban on religious head coverings for high school student-athletes, weeks after officials held a Muslim girls basketball player out of a game because she lacked the waiver required to wear a hijab.

Under the new policy, participants may wear a "head covering, wrap or other required religious garment" that is not considered dangerous to others or likely to come off during play. The original rule, which required a state-approved waiver, is a National Federation of State High School Association regulation but is enforced at the state level.

On March 17, the Montgomery County Board of Education voted unanimously to ask the MPSSAA and NFHS to change the rule, which had come under heavy scrutiny after a state playoff game.

Late in a March 3 regional final between the Watkins Mills girls basketball team and victorious Oxon Hill, Watkins Mill junior Je'Nan Hayes was not allowed to enter the game. The game's head official had told the team's coach before tipoff that state rules required "documented evidence" that Hayes, who is Mulism, needs to cover her head for religious reasons. Watkins Mill had failed to submit the request before the game, but Hayes had played in Watkins Mills' first 24 games without incident. 

State and county administrators said they disagreed with the decision to not let her play, and the MPSSAA and referees association apologized to Hayes and her family. 

On March 21, MPSSAA executive director Andy Warner wrote a letter to athletic supervisors and athletic directors notifying them of the state's new exception to NFHS rules.

Muslim leaders, who criticized the handling of the incident, applauded the revised policy.

"We welcome this change in policy, which will enable more Muslim high school students — as well as students of other faiths — to participate in athletic activities," Zainab Chaudry, outreach manager for the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Maryland, said in a statement.

FIBA, the international governing body of basketball, bans the wearing of religious headgear during competitions but is expected to address the rule that affects headwear such as hijabs in May.

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