Muslim Student in NJ Sues Over Teacher's Remark

He says he asked for more time to finish assignment and was told, 'We don't negotiate with terrorists'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 25, 2021 12:14 PM CDT
Updated Oct 25, 2022 6:53 PM CDT
Muslim Student 'in Shock' at Teacher's Reply to His Question
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/GlobalStock)

Update: A Muslim student in New Jersey is suing a district and a teacher, saying he was "devastated and humiliated" last year at Ridgefield High School when he asked the teacher for more time to complete an assignment and was loudly told, "We don't negotiate with terrorists." Mohammed Zubi, an Arab American of Palestinian origin, is seeking unspecified monetary damages and an order for the district to bring in new training programs for educators, reports. The lawsuit states that he was so distressed by the remark, which some of classmates laughed at, that he ended up missing a big chunk of the school year and had to seek counseling. Our story from Oct. 25, 2021 follows:

The captain of a New Jersey high school soccer team says he hasn't been back to school since an upsetting incident last week. Senior Mohammed Zubi, 17, says he was in math class at Ridgefield High School on Tuesday and had asked a question about an assignment, when he was taken aback by the teacher's clearly audible response to his query: "We don't negotiate with terrorists." Mohammed, who's Arabic and Muslim, tells WABC he was "in shock" to hear that response, especially as some of his classmates started to laugh.

"I [turned] around and ask my friend, 'Did he really just say that?' and she said yes," Mohammed says. A classmate backs up Mohammed's allegation, noting that most of the class was similarly in shock. Mohammed says he hasn't gotten back to school since, as now he's "really uncomfortable." "I don't want to see anyone, and I've been in my room all day—don't want to see my friends, especially after what that teacher said to me," he says.

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The New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is demanding that action be taken. "This type of insensitive language by an authority figure is unacceptable because it perpetuates stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims," the group said in a statement, adding it hopes for a "swift and transparent investigation." In an "important message" featured prominently on the Ridgefield Public Schools website, the district says it can't comment on student or personnel matters, but it noted it "immediately suspended the staff member while it is conducting a full investigation" and that "discriminatory conduct has absolutely no place in our District." (More New Jersey stories.)

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