DEARBORN HEIGHTS - Officials from the U.S. Department of Justice were at the Caroline Kennedy Library here on Wednesday where they came to hear more about the alleged patterns of discrimination that have been occurring for years against Arab American students in the Crestwood School District.
|Officials from the DOJ listening to complaints from concerned community members. PHOTO: TAAN Natasha Dado|
In late February the ADC filed complaints on behalf of a school counselor working in the district, with the U.S. Department of Justice, U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights and U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission over reported discrimination and retaliation. Among the biggest issues highlighted was the concern over non-speaking english students being deprived adequate education services.
The action has prompted many school administrators and parents who have had concerns for years to come forward and voice them.
According to Judith Levy, U.S. Assistant Attorney there are several factors that will be looked at when determining whether the complaints about the District are justified and require the implementation of change in the hiring process and other areas.
Over the last few months, allegations that Arab Americans were not hired based on their ethnicity
have emerged. If issues are found, Levy said officials would work with the district to resolve them. “There are a number of factors we’ll be looking at,” she said. On Thursday additional administrators and faculty members from the district were expected to meet with officials from the DOJ.
"Many of the issues that you raised tonight are what we typically look at… for example people raised the issue of communication with parents,” said Shaheena Ahmed Simons of the DOJ. She says providing adequate representation of administrators and faculty members to reflect the needs of the student population will be looked into.
Currently the DOJ is conducting a broad review of the situation. “A lot of the things you said today will be very useful,” Simons said. Wayne County Corporation Counsel Zenna Elhasan recalled an incident where she was at a Crestwood school office, and a Arabic speaking parent was asked to fill out forms, but couldn’t because of language barriers. “By chance I was fortunate to interpret
for him,” she said. While some of the schools student bodies are comprised of more than fifty percent Arab Americans, there isn’t enough Arabic speaking faculty members to help parents or students who struggle with English.
According to Ed Garcia, a member of the Crestwood School Board two new Arabic speaking faculty members have been hired in the district recently, and will be working in the ESL department. At the meeting, one Arab American woman suggested having diversity training in the Crestwood School District. In one reported case, a student who was excelling in chemistry was accused of cheating because she didn’t speak English.
Others say there are often instances where the behavior of students is interpreted as unusual by school faculty, because they don’t have enough knowledge about Arabic culture. Despite the high concentration of Arab Muslim students in the district, halal food is not provided on the menu.
Those at the meeting raised concerns about not having a halal menu that caters to the dietary needs of the majority of students. “We don't want 62 percent of the menu that represents 62 percent of the population to be halal food. Give me one percent so my child can have protein,” Samer Jaafer, a concerned parent said.
Other school districts in metro-Detroit that don’t have as high a Muslim student population serve halal meat. According to reports an employee in the district who advocated for a halal menu is no longer there, and someone who suggested getting halal meat for pizzas was told he would be fired if he mentioned it again. In another disturbing case an Arab American substitute was banned from teaching in the district after she said one Arabic word in the class which came out naturally. When the issue was brought up at a previous
school board meeting, the board said that was the first time they had heard about it, but others say the board and the district’s superintendent had knowledge of it.
Many parents are angry about their complaints being ignored, and say the district is not doing its job by holding people accountable for unprofessional behavior. Imad Hamad of the ADC said many people have been reluctant to speak freely because they were afraid of retaliation. One parent said his child was suspended for three days, and after the child’s mother brought a lawyer to the school because she believed the punishment was unfair, the suspension was extended to 15 days. Additional claims of retaliation have surfaced.