Teacher suspended for allegedly telling Muslim student 'we don't negotiate with terrorists'

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A New Jersey teacher accused of telling an Arab American and Muslim student "we don't negotiate with terrorists" in response to a request for a homework extension has been suspended, district officials said.

The incident reportedly occurred on Wednesday morning during first period at Ridgefield Memorial High School in Ridgefield, New Jersey, where the student, Mohammed Zubi, is a senior, according to a statement by the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Zubi told CAIR-NJ he had asked for more time on his homework in math class when the teacher made the statement.

The entire class, including another teacher, saw the incident, the statement said. Zubi told CAIR-NJ that the teacher later approached him, saying, "I didn't mean it like that."

The Ridgefield school district released a statement saying it has "absolutely no tolerance for any sort of discrimination against any student or staff member."

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"The district strives to create an inclusive environment where students’ and staff members’ race, religion, national origin and sexual orientation are embraced," the statement continued. "While the district cannot legally comment on personnel or student matters, the public should be aware that the district immediately suspended the staff member while it is conducting a full investigation."

School officials said they intend "to pursue any and all legal remedies against the staff member as any discriminatory conduct has absolutely no place in our district."

District officials said in the statement that they notified police about the incident. Ridgefield police did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

CAIR-NJ said it welcomed the police investigation and is asking Ridgefield Memorial High School to take "appropriate corrective measures."

“We are very concerned about these allegations and urge the school district to take appropriate corrective measures following a swift and transparent investigation," CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaedin Maksut said in a statement. "This type of insensitive language by an authority figure is unacceptable because it perpetuates stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims.”

Maksut said CAIR-NJ is offering the Ridgefield school district diversity training for its teachers and staff to help combat Islamophobia and bullying.

This is not the first incident this month in which police are investigating an incident between a teacher and a Muslim student.

Maplewood, New Jersey police are looking into allegations that a teacher "forcibly" removed the hijab of a second-grade student, the South Orange-Maplewood School district said.

The teacher, Tamar Herman, called the incident a misunderstanding in a statement sent to The Record and NorthJersey.com through her attorney.

"Last week, I asked one of my students to raise the hood of her sweatshirt because it was covering her eyes," said Herman, a teacher at Seth Boyden Elementary School in Maplewood. "With her mask on, too, her whole face was covered. I gently got her attention by brushing up the front of her hood. The moment I realized she was not wearing her usual hijab underneath, she kept the hood on. And the learning went on."

Robert Tarver, an attorney representing the family of the second-grader, said at least one other student witnessed the teacher pulling the hijab, which he said the student wears every day.

"In light of the denial by the teacher, I want to make it clear that we have obtained independent verification that completely supports the assertion of the student," Tarver said.

Staff Writer Hannan Adely contributed to this story.

Kristie Cattafi is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com.

This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: New Jersey teacher suspended for 'terrorist' comment to Muslim student

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