NJ teacher claims contract not renewed because she is Muslim

Julie Wiener

(JTA) — A New Jersey high school teacher accused of discriminating against Jewish students is claiming her contract was not renewed because she is Muslim.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in federal court, Sireen Hashem claims Hunterdon District Superintendent Christine Steffner told her she had “caused trouble because she was Palestinian” and her former supervisor Robert Zywicki said she could not teach current events the same way “her non-Arab, non-Palestinian and non-Muslim colleagues” could, The Associated Press reported.

Hashem taught U.S. history at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, New Jersey, from September 2013 to June 2015. She was informed in April 2015 that her contract would not be renewed.

According to MyCentralJersey, the lawsuit also contends that a “local rabbi and several parents” at one point contacted the school to have Hashem fired.

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The suit claims Hashem was reprimanded for showing her class a video of Pakistani female education activist Malala Yousafzai in October 2013, before Malala won the Nobel Peace Prize, and that Principal Suzanne Cooley in September 2014 accused her of discriminating against Jewish students. The lawsuit also says that Steffner and Cooley questioned Hashem, who is Palestinian American, about her place of birth, her family and her personal life.

Other claims in the suit include that Hashem’s supervisor told her not to mention Islam or the Middle East in class and not to bring “her culture, life experience or background into the classroom” and that a student not in any of her classes accused her on Facebook of being a terrorist and of attempting to make her students anti-Semitic.

According to an August 2014 article in Princeton Patch, Hashem was one of several speakers at a pro-Palestinian rally in Princeton, New Jersey. Hashem had “recently returned from a summer trip to visit relatives in Palestine,” the article noted.

Steffner told the Courier News of Bridgewater the allegations against her aren’t true and the district will fight the suit.

Hashem is asking for her job back and to be reimbursed for back pay, benefits and other damages.

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