August 13, 2006

Muslim student in Cape Henlopen harassed?

Back on July 29, the NY Times did an expose on the Dobrich family and their lawsuit against the Indian River School District. In that article, the author noted that "a Muslim family in another part of Sussex County" had also filed a lawsuit similar to that of the Dobrich's. I couldn't find anything via Google at that time using terms like "Muslim," "lawsuit" and "Sussex County;" however, I finally heard back from that original column's writer, Neela Banerjee, today. She writes:

It is against the Cape Henlopen school district, brought by the Muslim mother, "Jane Doe", in federal district court in Delaware. The defendants include Dane Brandenberger, Jane Maull and Cindy Cunningham, as well as the distrcit itself. Also, check with the state ACLU. They are involved, I believe.

Well, that narrows it down. Now, using Google, several articles appear about the lawsuit. Here's a sample from one:

A mother of three schoolgirls has filed a federal lawsuit against the Cape Henlopen School District, claiming school officials were disrespectful of their Islamic faith and didn't stop harassment by other students.

The lawsuit, made public Friday in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, accuses a teacher at Shields Elementary School in Lewes of equating Muslims to terrorists while instructing a fourth-grade class last school year.

"During the course of that lesson, students were told 'Muslims believe the Koran teaches war and hatred'; 'Muslims believe that people who do not practice Islam are evil,' " the lawsuit said.

School officials are accused of refusing to allow the girl in that class to explain Islam to her schoolmates, even though the teacher had discussed Christian symbols during Christmas.

"[When] it was suggested by the parent, that her daughter ... would make a balanced presentation explaining the Muslim religion to the classroom, to boost her self-esteem, it was expressed that such an action would be inappropriate, in that it would 'open a can of worms,' " the lawsuit alleges.

The lawsuit alleges the teachers' action, along with her supervisors' failure to stop it, made the fourth-grade girl so depressed that a therapist recommended she stay home from school and get tutoring.

But the lawsuit alleges even that option didn't work well because the instructor, approved by the district, continued to discuss ethnic hatreds and religious wars, despite the therapist cautioning against it. Another tutor was eventually sent to the family's house, but not for as much time as the family expected.

The mother tried to talk to school officials last summer to make sure her girls would not face ridicule this school year, the lawsuit claims. But because district officials could not guarantee any change, the family moved to a different school district.

This was reported back in early-to-mid 2005, but I don't remember ever hearing about it -- which would be unusual, to say the least, since as a local blogger interested in such topics, I really like to be in the know. The actual incident(s) occured over a year before that, the first complaint apparently being received by Cape Henlopen in May 2004. But what I found that is most interesting is that the lawsuit was apparently settled back in March 2005 via intervention by the United States Dept. of Justice's Civil Rights Division (my emphasis):

On March 1, the Civil Rights Division settled a case in which a Delaware student alleged she was harassed by a teacher because of her faith. In May 2004, the Department of Justice received a complaint that a teacher in the Cape Henlopen School District had harassed a fourth-grade Muslim girl, and that school officials had not taken adequate action in response. The Civil Rights Division opened an investigation, which was resolved by the March 1 settlement agreement.

In the settlement agreement reached between the school district and the Civil Rights Division, the school agreed to provide teacher training on diversity and the school’s policies regarding religious expression, to provide a tolerance education program for all K-5 students, and to create specific performance expectations for the teacher and ensure that she achieves them.

“We are pleased that this case has been resolved without recourse to a lawsuit,� said R. Alexander Acosta, Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights.

Much, if not all, of what the family wanted implemented based on their lawsuit reported on in the News Journal (via other news outlets as seen above -- original N.J. link is not working at the moment) is included in this noted settlement. So -- what's the deal? Was this lawsuit settled or not? The Dept. of Justice website clearly indicates it was. This took place on March 1, 2005. Yet, the lawsuit was reported on by the News Journal almost four months later, on June 25, 2005, and again over a year later by the New York Times on July 29, 2006!

Did the Muslim family renege on the settlement? Is this lawsuit ongoing? NY Times writer Banerjee suggested I contact the Delaware division of the ACLU; chee-yeah -- over the years they have yet to return a single reply to e-mails I've sent them asking for information.

I have some information "feelers" out and about right now. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Hube at August 13, 2006 09:52 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

First rate blogging. Although, I would say that rather than an error - the NYT was just being imprecise when it reported about the law suit.

On the bigger questions:

1) The system worked. Great. (Good things happen when radio blow hards donlt get involved.)

2) There are some crazy teachers in SC who don't understand our American practice of keeping the state out of our churches and vis versa.

Posted by: jason at August 13, 2006 12:52 PM

Thanks, Jase. However, there's no mention of a settlement in the WNJ report, either. It's like nothing ever happened regarding a settlement. Methinks it was rethought, either by the family or the district.

Posted by: Hube at August 13, 2006 12:57 PM

If you want to know more about this, listen to www.thisamericanlife.org. They just did an interview (Dec. 2006) with the family for a documentary called Shouting Across the Divide, about the relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. It sounds like this poor girl suffered greatly because the teacher and the school allowed her to be harassed for her religion following 9/11. It's a disturbing story.

Posted by: Amy at December 19, 2006 05:05 PM

The settlement probably avoided a DOJ lawsuit where the federal government would press charges against the school, but that doesn't keep the family from filing a civil lawsuit.

Posted by: QN at March 3, 2007 05:45 PM

The settlement noted in the TAL story was between the school and the Justice Department, not between the school and the family. There is a civil suit pending between the family and the school (the school is the defendant), but I have not heard about a resolution.

Posted by: Bren at January 5, 2008 01:11 PM