Mayor Mike Purzycki, D-Wilmington, has issued an apology and is meeting with members of the Muslim community after a teacher and her elementary school-aged students of Islamic faith were asked to leave a public pool.
Members of a summer Arabic enrichment program said they were asked to leave a city pool last month because they were wearing cotton clothing and headscarves — despite being frequent visitors to the pool, and no visible signage about the garments being inappropriate.
They said the pool manager even called the police on them.
Over the weekend, Purzycki issued an apology, saying the city used poor judgment. He assured community members religious garb is permitted.
“We should be held accountable for what happened and how poorly we assessed this incident,” he said. “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 judgment, and that was also wrong.”
Naveed Baqir of the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs said he believes the pool manager used the so-called no cotton policy as an excuse to discriminate against the group. He said incidents like this aren’t uncommon.
“A lot of times situations do not escalate to this level, people just walk away when they’re faced with these types of comments,” Baqir said.
“It happens quite frequently,” he added. “Personally, I have been asked to leave a pool, several years ago. Because my family is affluent enough, we made a point we’re not going to use a public facility, we will use a private facility and pay a facility that listens to our requests and can accommodate our requests.”
Baqir said he’s pleased with the mayor’s response to the incident and will meet with him to discuss how to address the issue.
He said while modest swimwear designed for Muslims who wish to cover are available, not everyone can afford them.
“Does it mean the pool is only for those who can afford to pay for expensive swimwear? It’s a difficult situation to come up with this [no cotton] rule that is fairly and equally applied to all people,” Baqir said.
“We are making sure everybody is respected, their religious beliefs are respected, if there are rules, those rules should be clearly described and defined and displayed,” Baqir added. “At the same time, rules should be in a way that can be applied equally without discrimination.”
On Monday, Purzycki told WHYY he issued the apology because he felt the city “handled it as badly as it could be handled.”
“We made a mess of it and you got to be accountable for it,” he said.
Purzycki said he is arranging a meeting with the affected group. He said he wants to strengthen understanding between communities. The mayor added that going forward, there should be clear policies in place.
“The sensible thing to do now is for us to enforce a loosely worded policy of appropriate dress and be as permissive as we can about it and alter from that course only if we think there’s a safety issue, and put together sensible policies over the next year and promulgate them early so everyone knows what the rules are and nobody feels they’re being discriminated against,” he said.