Civil Rights Group Demands Public Apology, Investigation, and Calls for Public Support of Targeted Student
(NEW YORK, NY, 6/22/2021) — The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today demanded that school officials publicly apologize and take corrective action following an Islamophobic, anti-Palestinian and anti-immigrant incident at The Wheatley School graduation in which a Muslim graduate speaker was reportedly booed and told “go back to Pakistan” by a parent.
CAIR-NY is also calling on The Wheatley School to publicly apologize to the student and her family for providing false information to parents and the public, and for contributing to the bullying and harassment of the student.
On June 20, a graduating 17-year-old Muslim student who wears hijab (religious head covering) and is of Pakistani descent, gave a graduation speech that was approved by the school principal.
Video of Graduation:
Principal’s Receipt of Speech Prior to Graduation:
In the speech, the student asked her classmates to seek out knowledge about international issues plaguing the world, including the ethnic cleansings of Palestinians and Uighur Muslims and global warming.
The student said:
“Educate yourself about international dilemmas, including the ethnic cleansings of Palestinians and Uighur Muslims. Families are continuously torn apart and real human lives are being lost but ignored. Educate yourself on the widespread issues that plague our planet and threaten our very existence in the long run: consider global warming with the gravity that it needs to be looked at with. And never stop speaking about these issues until they are resolved.”
During her speech, the student was booed by parents and the parents chanted, “we support Israel.” Afterwards, parents harassed and bullied the student and her family. At one point, one parent is caught on video asking the student, “what about Hamas?”
Another parent made the anti-immigrant statement, “go back to Pakistan!” The student and her family are of Pakistani descent. The student referenced her ethnicity during her speech. Another male adult parent became so aggressive with his yelling and gestures that security and a police detective had to escort him away from the family.
The principal blamed the uproar on the student’s reference to Palestinians. At the graduation ceremony, the principal apologized to the student and stated that “the blame is all mine” because he allegedly failed to review the speech before he approved it.
Later that day, however, The Wheatley School sent two emails to parents. In both emails, the school falsely stated that the student’s speech was not approved, and that the student diverted from her approved speech.
In Principal Dr. Feeney’s email, he falsely stated:
“Unfortunately, one of the student speakers diverted from the remarks that had been originally approved by the Graduation Speech Committee who made the selections, presenting personal views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I want to be clear that the injection of such remarks was absolutely inappropriate to the graduation ceremony, as would be any political statements during a celebration solely intended to acknowledge our seniors and their many achievements and accomplishments as members of our Wheatley School community. The comments were not part of the approved speech.
I apologize that such a wonderful ceremony became marred for many people in attendance due to those remarks.”
The principal and school district apologized to the Wheatley Community for the student’s remark and failed to acknowledge the Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian, and anti-immigrant harassment and bullying that the student and her family suffered. The principal and school district’s emails fanned the flames of anti-Muslim hysteria and contributed to the ongoing hate that is permeating.
On June 22, CAIR-NY and the family met with Principal Dr. Feeney and other school staff. Dr. Feeney described the parents conduct as being “beyond the pale” and acknowledged his failure for not “holding the adults to task” for their harassment and bullying. Dr. Feeney also acknowledged that he should have included a condemnation of parents’ conduct in the email.
Dr. Feeney was asked to correct the record and issue a condemnation. Dr. Feeney refused to commit to any public comments.
In a statement, CAIR-NY Legal Director Ahmed Mohamed said:
“It is shocking to see the East Williston School District, The Wheatley School and Principal Dr. Feeney abdicated their fundamental duty to provide a safe and supportive environment for all students and families, including Huda and other Muslims.
“Instead of supporting the student, they made false and defamatory statements about the student and failed to address the harassment and bullying the student and her family received at graduation and continue to receive.
“The Islamophobia, anti-immigrant and anti-Palestinian sentiment at the school district and The Wheatley School is appalling and must be addressed for the safety of Muslim and immigrant students. We expect the school district, The Wheatley School, and Dr. Feeney to issue a public apology to the student and her family and to publicly state that they will protect the student from harassment if she attends any school activities.
“The student and her family faced Islamophobic and anti-immigrant hate from parents at the graduation ceremony. The school district and school must condemn these actions, immediately investigate and hold these parents accountable for harassing and bullying a student and her family at a school-sanctioned activity.
“The East Williston School District and The Wheatley School must address their anti-Muslim bias. It is clear they do not care about their Muslim students. Instead of supporting a vulnerable Muslim student, they chose to target, vilify and smear her to the entire school community. It is abhorrent and must be called out. All Long Islanders must stand with the student. To support the student, community members can declare their support using the hashtag #WeStandWithHuda on social media.”
A report by CAIR-MA indicated that 60 percent of Muslim youths surveyed reported being mocked, verbally harassed or physically abused because of their Islamic faith. CAIR reports in other states have shown similar results.
CAIR-MA Survey: Mass. Muslim Students Report High Rates of Harassment, Bullying
Video: CAIR-Philadelphia Represents Muslim High School Student Bullied Online and Attacked at School
CAIR-DFW Survey: Almost Half of Muslim Students Say They Have Been Bullied
A survey conducted by CAIR’s California chapters in 2018-2019, revealed that almost 1 in 3 Muslim students do not feel safe, welcomed and respected at school, with almost a third of students reporting that school staff made offensive comments about Islam or Muslims at school.
READ: CAIR-CA Bullying Report – 2019
CAIR offers an anti-bullying guide for Muslim parents and students.
CAIR’s guide, titled “Bias and Bullying: Empowering Muslim Children in the Age of Islamophobia,” provides key recommendations for families and communities to help stop the spread of bigotry, hate and Islamophobia in schools. The Washington-based civil rights organization’s guide also offers a five-step checklist for “What to Do If You Are Bullied at School” and “Know Your Rights” materials for Muslim students in Arabic, Bengali, Bosnian, Farsi, Somali, and Urdu.
SEE: CAIR Anti-Bullying Guide
CAIR’s mission is to enhance understanding of Islam, protect civil rights, promote justice, and empower American Muslims.
La misión de CAIR es proteger las libertades civiles, mejorar la comprensión del Islam, promover la justicia, y empoderar a los musulmanes en los Estados Unidos.
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