Ridgefield educators will learn about The faith of Muslim students at Friday’s training session, which covers topics including religious holidays, misconceptions about Islam and the meaning of commonly used terms.
It is planned that the training will take place online four months after the teacher was charged to tell a high school student who is Muslim and Arab-American, “we are not negotiating with terrorists,” after the student asked for an extension of homework. The incident caused headlines across globe, district investigation and calls for dialogue of Muslim leaders.
“Any time we have the opportunity to bring in a certain group to enlighten us and share a certain culture with us, we enjoy doing it,” said Ridgefield School Principal Leticia Pantaliana. “We strive for diversity.”
About 300 teachers, assistants and administrators will take part in the 90-minute training, which will be offered during a professional development session by the branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New Jersey, a Muslim advocacy group.
The training was scheduled in talks with district leaders and CAIR-NJ Executive Director Selaeddin Maksut following the October 20 incident at Ridgefield Memorial High School.
“We congratulate and congratulate the school district for taking this step and becoming a model district for others in the fight against Islamophobia,” Maksut said.
“For us, it’s important because last year we saw so many cases coming out of schools in the state and the country. In some cases, it’s not just bullying among peers, but also teachers targeting Muslim students.”
Lessons will include the study of holidays and terms such as the hijab, a headscarf worn by some Muslim women and girls for cultural identity, piety and modesty.
Educators will also learn about misconceptions about Islam and learn, for example, that only 20% of Muslims are from the Middle East. CAIR will note that they are racially and ethnically diverse religions, as well as natives of Southeast Asia, Latinos and African Americans.
They will learn about misunderstood terms such as “Allahu Akbar”, which means “God is the greatest”, which is commonly used to express gratitude and praise to God.
The group provides a training program for free.
Maksut, who will lead the session, will talk about how schools can accept Muslim students, such as a quiet place to pray or allow students who fast during the holy month of Ramadan to have lunch outside the canteen. Some parents may also want to prevent their children from having sex education or going to the gym and dancing because of modesty in their faith. CAIR is mentioned in the handbook for educators.
Pantolano said the training reflects the district’s commitment to learning about different communities and further understanding and serving its students. According to the state for 2019-2020, the area is 30% white, 42% Hispanic, 24% Asian and 3% black.
The U.S. state and census do not count religious identification information. But Ridgefield is home to a large Arab American community, which, according to the census, makes up more than 6% of the area’s population. Arabs are both Muslims and Christians, and in polls they are considered white, although the Arab-American community promoted their own racial category in the census.
Mohamed Zubi, a high school student, said he was called a terrorist ABC News in October this incident made him deeply uncomfortable.
Ayman Abushi, a lawyer representing Zubi and his family, said his client had also asked the district to train teachers, but further action was needed. They also want the teacher to be held accountable, Abushi said this week.
Superintendent Pantaliano said she could not comment on personnel issues, including the results of the investigation. The teacher, who was fired after the incident, according to Abusha, did not return to school, but he did not know if he was still working in the area.
While Pantaliano saw training and curricula about different groups in education, materials about Islam were rare, she said. This mood was responded to Nagla Bedir, founder of Teaching While Muslim, a non-profit organization from New Jersey focused on education and training against bias.
Bedir, a high school teacher in Perth Amboy, founded the group in 2018 to close “a huge gap in the education of Muslims and Muslim students,” she said in an interview last year.
Bedir is working with CAIR to develop and implement a curriculum in New Jersey schools that shows the contribution of Muslims in a variety of disciplines, she said. Such lessons can promote inclusive and inclusive education and can help combat Islamophobia., she said.
Half of Muslim parents with children in K-12 schools said their children were bullied because of their religion, according to a 2020 poll The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, a group from Michigan that studies the American Muslim community.
Thirty percent said the source of the bullying was a teacher or other school official.
The Essex County Attorney’s Office last month announced he would not be charged against the teacher in the alleged incident with bias due to lack of evidence.
The training in Ridgefield took place a few days after State Senator Edward Dur, a Gloucester County Republican, introduced a bill calling on the state to recognize the two major Muslim holidays, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Earlier this week, Politico.com reported.
Dur apologized in November, shortly after the election, when it became clear that in the past he had posted anti-Muslim comments on social media.
The law proposed by him provides for the days of celebration of announcements and events or programs.
Dur met with Muslim leaders after his tweets surfaced, listened to their concerns and apologized. He later approached Maksut to propose a bill on Eid holidays.
“Every issue requires a unique response, whether in Ridgefield or in the case of a senator, and that works for the greater good,” Maksut said. “It improves lives not only for Muslims in New Jersey. It makes New Jersey better.”
Hanan Adele is a reporter on diversity, covering Arab and Muslim communities for NorthJersey.com, where she focuses on social issues, politics, bias and civil rights. To get unlimited access to the latest news, subscribe or activate your digital account today.