Elementary school kids were just trying to cool off in a pool in Wilmington, Delaware, over the weekend when they were abruptly asked to leave. Apparently, their shirts, shorts, and hijabs broke a city-wide rule that bans cotton from being worn in the pool. But it’s not a huge leap to wonder if they were singled out not for the cotton, but for the headscarves.
Tahsiyn A. Ismaa’eel, director of the summer Arab enrichment program in which the children are enrolled, said the pool director at Foster Brown public pool told her about the rule — and then sent over a police officer to ask her what time they would be leaving.
“No one is bothering them,” Ismaa’eel told Delaware Online. “We were approached first about the cotton, and then it became, ‘Oh, the pool is overcapacity so you need to leave.’ … I felt very unwanted.” She told NBC 10, “We were harassed on four separate occasions,” adding, “She tapped several of them, like four little girls, tapped them and told them to get out of the pool.”
Even though the signage at the pool only states swimmers need to wear “proper swimming attire,” including no cut-off jeans, John Rago, the mayor’s deputy chief of staff for policy and communication, said in a statement, ”There are city rules and regulations designed to ensure the safety of those who use the pools….One of the rules requires that all swimmers wear proper swimming attire.” The rule, he said, is a safety consideration as cotton weighs swimmers down and also affects the pool’s filtration system.
Mayor Mike Purzycki later said in a statement, “I apologize to the children who were directed to leave a city pool because of the religious-required clothing they were wearing … We also referred to vaguely-worded pool policies to assess and then justify our poor judgement, and that was also wrong.”
“I’m surprised this happened in the city of Wilmington that is supposed to be more progressive and accepting,” said Naveed Baqir, executive director of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs. “It’s difficult to walk away from these situations when they happen in places you feel you belong. What message are you giving to these kids? That they don’t belong?”
Ismaa’eel said she would tell the parents of her students about the rule, but new swimwear — especially pool-friendly garments appropriate for their religious practice — can be expensive. Meanwhile, before new signage is in place, kids will be allowed to swim wearing the cotton attire.
Below, watch video of Ismaa’eel discussing the children being kicked out of the pool and reacting to the mayor’s apology.
Read the full story at Delaware Online.