An Arab American student who attended Ridgefield High School in northern New Jersey has filed a lawsuit against a teacher he claims used the word “terrorist” in response to a question about a class assignment.
Mohammed Zubi, a practicing Muslim of Palestinian origin, states in court papers he was working with fellow students on Oct. 10, 2021 when he asked his teacher for more time to finish the assignment.
“We don’t negotiate with terrorists,” the teacher allegedly said “in a loud voice” so that others could hear, states the lawsuit, filed Oct. 17 in Superior Court of Bergen County.
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The “plaintiff was shocked and immediately taken aback by the comments,” the suit states. “Some of the students in the class laughed at (the) plaintiff while others looked on in horror.”
The lawsuit states the remark “devastated and humiliated” Zubi to the point where he missed an extended period of the school year, “became reclusive and crippled with guilt, anxiety and depression, which required professional treatment,” the suit states.
The teacher’s alleged comments were reported to local police, who sent the case back to the district after investigators determined a crime hadn’t been committed.
School district officials did not immediately respond on Tuesday to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
In a statement to NJ Advance Media last year, the district declined to discuss the incident, but said it “has absolutely no tolerance for any sort of discrimination.”
Zubi’s lawsuit against the teacher, which also names the district, alleges negligence, a hostile educational environment, emotional distress, and violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.
“The discrimination and disparate treatment visited upon (the) plaintiff robbed him of an education, forced him to stay home from school and seek counseling, and caused permanent injuries,” the suit states.
In addition to unspecified monetary damages, Zubi’s lawsuit asks the district to implement programs to “train, instruct, discipline, control and supervise the members of its faculty.”
NorthJersey.com reported that the district in February held a 90-minute training session for teachers, aides and administrators to learn about the Muslim faith, misconceptions about Islam, and the meanings behind commonly used terms.
The Ridgefield High School incident occurred days after a South Orange-Maplewood School District teacher wasaccused of pulling a hijab off a 7-year-old Muslim student’s head. The teacher, Tamar Herman, recently filed a defamation and invasion of privacy lawsuit against Ibtihaj Muhammad, who wrote about the alleged incident on Facebook.