Using one's religion against them is an inhumane work, surely not that of a school employee who's in contact with children on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, and with the widespread of Islamophobia, it seemed fitting for a worker at P.S. 264 Bay Ridge Elementary School for the Arts in New York, U.S. to "punish" a nine-year-old using his religion against him.
The incident involved a young Muslim student who was forced to sit and watch his schoolmates have lunch as he fasted for the holy month of Ramadan. What makes it worse is that the school's policy allows students who observe Ramadan to be accompanied to a room other than the cafeteria.
The lunch aide responsible for this punishment claimed the boy was laughing at her and therefore he could sit in the cafeteria and watch all the other kids eat as he fasted. Was that really the most suitable punishment for a young, impressionable child?
The boy's mother, Zaman Mashrah, was livid when she heard of the accident. "I trusted P.S. 264 to treat my son with dignity and respect. Instead, my child had his religion used against him as a form of punishment," she said.
At the time of the incident, on May 14, Mashrah reported what her son had been through to the school's principal, hoping the lunch aide would face repercussions for her actions.
However, since nothing was done by the school itself, Mashrah decided to file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Education's (DOE) Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management. Her complaint was met with silence, although the DOE is required by law to issue a written determination within 90 days of a filed complaint.
The upset mother just couldn't stop imagining her son "sitting in that cafeteria alone, scared, helpless." Six months after her first two complaints were unaddressed, she resorted to New York's Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY), who filed a complaint against the DOE with the Commission on Human Rights on Wednesday.
The complaint requested compensation for the Mashrah family, along with penalization of the school worker who punished the child as well as DOE officials who are said to have failed to provide said retribution.
"A school employee weaponized Ms. Mashrah's son's religious practice. This child's classmates, who are 8 and 9 years old, immediately recognized that this staff member had done something cruel," voiced Ahmed Mohamed, litigation director of CAIR-NY.
"It's taken the DOE 177 days to even acknowledge that a serious incident occurred," he added, criticizing the lightness with which DOE handled this case.
The mother decided to remove her son from P.S. 264 this year, complaining to the Gothamist that her son wanted to graduate from fifth grade with his friends. "Had the DOE taken this matter seriously and held that employee accountable for what she did," her son would have still been attending the school with his friends.
She expected the DOE to have their backs and protect her child. "The only person that has been protected is the staff member that bullied and abused a nine-year old boy," she lamented.
In response, a DOE spokesperson, Isabelle Boundy, issued a statement saying, "Schools must be safe, supportive and inclusive environments, and these very concerning allegations were immediately reported for investigation. We take any allegation of discrimination seriously, and will review the complaint."
However, Mohamed retaliated, saying the DOE had failed to support the mother and her child. He also pointed out that if the department was in fact serious regarding the matter, it wouldn't have taken them six months to investigate.
Islamophobia is rampant in the U.S., as cases involving hate crime against Muslims keep on accumulating
This is not the first act of public religious discrimination New York City has witnessed over the last couple of months. In fact, CAIR has reported an unparalleled rise in bigotry targeting Muslim-Americans, immigrants, and other minority groups since Donald Trump was elected president of the U.S.
Just last month, a Muslim Egyptian couple was harassed by a woman inside and outside of a TJ Maxx department store in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn while shopping for clothes for their kids. Employees working at TJ Maxx at the time did not react at all to the white lady screaming "Go back to your country" at the unsuspecting couple, who then walked out of the store in shock.
In another incident this year, three Muslim-American mothers and their eight children were denied the right to board a New York ferry after workers claimed there was a "security issue." Two of the three mothers had pronounced accents - due to their Pakistani descents - and two were wearing hijabs.