Fact check: Richmond schools confirm no students were expelled for wearing crucifix necklaces

The claim: A Richmond, Virginia, school principal expelled students for wearing crucifix necklaces

If the words “Mamasai Mamakusa” sound familiar to you, it’s not for the reason a viral meme would have you believe. The meme tells a false story of two student expulsions in Virginia that never occurred. 

“This is Mamasai Mamakusa, a school principal in Richmond, VA,” it reads. “She has expelled 2 kids for wearing a crucifix around their necks saying, ‘there is no place for religion at a school.’”

Behind the text, there is an image of a woman smiling and wearing a hijab.

Fact checkers have debunked this hoax several times before, pointing out that the name references a Michael Jackson song lyric – not a real school principal, but still the meme persists. 

In response to the post, some Facebook users shared relevant fact checks while others expressed concern.

“Sad what this Christian country is coming to,” commented one user.

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The Facebook poster did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment. 

Teachers from across Virginia marched to the state Capitol in Richmond to call for higher salaries and more funding for public schools. (Photo: VCU CNS image)

The story and the principal are fake

The principal’s purported name is not that of a real principal, but rather a famous song lyric from Michael Jackson’s hit “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin.”

USA TODAY could find no record of Virginia schools expelling students for wearing crucifixes. A search of Richmond Public Schools’ website shows no record of any principles named Mamasai Mamakusa.

Danielle Pierce, who works as coordinator, communications and media relations at Richmond Public Schools, confirmed in an email to USA TODAY that the claim is “false and no such incident has occurred.”

“We do not have a principal by this name,” she wrote.

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According to Snopes, America’s Last Line of Defense, part of a fake news network, shared the meme to Facebook several years ago. That post has since been removed, however, the meme still spreads as a source of disinformation.

America’s Last Line of Defense did not immediately respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.

Photo is a stock image

The image does not depict a school principal, rather it is from a stock image website. In fact, the watermark for Alamy, a stock image website, is visible in the meme. 

“Smiling young Muslim female entrepreneur wearing a hijab sitting in her home office working online with a laptop,” Alamy describes the image online. 

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The same stock image appears on iStock Photo, Adobe Stock, Shutterstock, 123RF and Dreamstime. 

Other images of the same woman can be purchased on those sites.

Our rating: False

There is no evidence to support the claim that a Richmond, Virginia, school principal expelled two students for wearing crucifix necklaces. Richmond Public Schools confirmed no such incident has occurred. A viral meme spreading this claim uses a stock image and a lyric from a Michael Jackson song. We rate this claim FALSE because it is not supported by our research. 

Our fact-check sources:

  • PoltiiFact, Feb. 6, 2019, “No, a Virginia principal didn’t expel students for wearing a crucifix”
  • Genius, accessed April 8, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”
  • Richmond Public Schools, accessed April 8, search “Mamasai Mamakusa”
  • USA TODAY, April 7, email with Danielle Pierce, Coordinator, Communications and Media Relations, Richmond Public Schools
  • Snopes, July 31, 2018, “Did Principal Mamasai Mamakusa Expel Two Children for Wearing Crucifixes?”
  • Alamy, Jan. 8, 2018, image
  • iStock, April 22, 2018, image
  • Shutterstock images, accessed April 8, image
  • 123RF, accessed April 8, image
  • Dreamstime, accessed April 8, image
  • Alamy, Jan. 8, 2018, image

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Our fact check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook. 

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