NEWARK (CN) - A New Jersey high school ordered a history teacher not to "mention Islam in class," reprimanded her for showing a movie about Nobel Laureate Malala Yusufzai - which a white history teacher showed without problems - then fired her because her Muslim religion causes "trouble," the teacher claims in court.
Sireen Hashem sued Hunterdon County, its Board of Education and superintendent, Hunterdon Central Regional High School and its principal and two teacher/supervisors on Monday in Federal Court.
Hashem, a Muslim-American woman of Palestinian descent, taught U.S. history teacher at Hunterdon High, in Flemington, from 2013-2015.
Hashem says that on Oc. 13, 2013, as part of her continuing training, she sat in on another teacher's U.S. history class: "a non-Arab, non-Muslim, non-Palestinian, Caucasian female."
That teacher showed a video about Malala Yusufzai, who was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for continuing to advocate for girls' and women's education after the Taliban shot her in the head. Yusufzai, then 17, is the youngest person ever to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
Hashem says in her lawsuit that "at the suggestion of" the other teacher, she showed "the same video in her U.S. history class later that day."
Eleven days later, she says, her supervisor in the Social Studies Department, defendant Robert Zywicki, summoned her to a meeting and told her that their principal, defendant Susan Cooley, had "received a complaint from the parent of a student about plaintiff's use of the Malala Yusufzai video during a lesson. Defendant Zywicki told plaintiff that she could not teach current events in the same manner as her non-Arab, non-Palestinian and non-Muslim colleagues," according to the complaint.
Her next problem came on March 31, 2014, Hashem says, when she was "invited to participate in an elective class wherein a book called 'Lemon Tree' was discussed. Plaintiff was asked to translate a Skype conversation between the students and Mr. Bashir, an individual whose experiences were recounted in the book."
A parent then called the high school to complain. The parent, whose student was in the elective class, but not in Hashem's class, "complained to the high school administration about the use of the book 'Lemon Tree' in the curriculum and about plaintiff's participation in the class," according to the complaint.
It got worse. On Sept. 8, 2014, that student, who is identified by name in the complaint, "posted allegations that plaintiff's brother was a terrorist on Facebook. He also posted that plaintiff was anti-Israel, was attempting to instill anti-Semitic views in students and warned that plaintiff may hurt students who did not agree with her," Hashem says in the lawsuit.
This came after another incident, in which Hashem says her principal unfairly singled her out. In May 2014, she says, she "used a document-based-question commonly used by teachers throughout the United States. The exercise asked students to compare the actions of John Brown at Harper's Ferry to the actions of Osama bin Laden on September 11, 2001."
On May 9 that year, principal Cooley called her into the office and told her a parent, unidentified in the complaint, had complained about the Harper's Ferry lesson.
"Defendant Cooley told plaintiff that she should not mention Islam or the Middle East in her class. Defendant Cooley further stated that plaintiff should not bring her culture, life experience or background into the classroom," according to the complaint.
Then came the allegations that her brother is a terrorist, which the student posted on Sept. 8, 2014.