Muslim teacher NOT fired over her religion, N.J. school district says

From The New York Times

By Jonah Bromwich

A New Jersey school district on Tuesday rejected accusations by a Muslim teacher that she was fired because of her religion as “brazenly false” and “frivolous.”

Sireen Hashem

Sireen Hashem

In a statement, the Hunterdon County district said Sireen Hashem was not fired from Hunterdon Central Regional High School, but simply did not have her contract renewed, for reasons “that were fully and clearly explained to her and her representation.”

“Those reasons were not related to religion, national or any other improper factor,” it added.

A spokeswoman did not respond to a request on Wednesday for further details, but the statement said, “The board and the administration respect and embrace the diversity of the district’s employee and student population, and value the relationships it enjoys amongst persons of all faiths.”

Omar T. Mohammedi, Ms. Hashem’s lawyer, says that the school never explained its reasons for ending her employment. She began working at the school in January 2013, teaching history and social studies, and, according to her complaint, received the first notice that her contract would not be renewed last April.

Ms. Hashem, an American citizen of Palestinian descent, filed a lawsuit in federal court against the district on Dec. 14, accusing the school of barring her from mentioning Islam in class after she showed students a video about the Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai and used a test question that compared the actions of an abolitionist and Osama bin Laden.

Ms. Hashem said that the video was used by at least one other teacher and the test question was “commonly used,” but that parents protested their use in her class. The district eventually asked her to avoid mentioning Islam in class, Ms. Hashem said.

The lawsuit, which names as defendants the school district, its officials and Hunterdon County, also accuses a student of creating a post on Facebook that labeled her brother as a terrorist.

Ms. Hashem asserts that, after her employment ended in June, she was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after she told the school board that it would be sorry for firing her. The F.B.I. declined a request for comment.

After telling her story to CNN’s Don Lemon, Ms. Hashem received support online, much if it posted on Twitter under the hashtag #FightforHashem.

Some commenters voiced skepticism, saying that Ms. Hashem’s accusations had not faced adequate scrutiny.

Some of those who supported Ms. Hashem were lukewarm when it came to her teaching.

Ms. Hashem’s reviews from students before the incident were mixed. One commenter on the website RateMyTeachers.com wrote that she was “an amazing woman” who “looks into student’s souls.” Another said that Ms. Hashem was not particularly well liked, but that “she wasn’t that bad as people say.”

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