School counselor files complaints, alleges students being denied proper educational services
A student counselor at Dearborn Height's Crestwood High School has filed complaints with the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging discrimination against the school district.
Left, CHS counselor Bill Ebbitt and Mrs. Hiam Brinjikji, civil rights attorney Shereef Akeel and ADC-MI Regional Director Imad Hamad at a press conference Thursday.
PHOTO: Natasha Dado/TAAN
Mrs. Hiam Brinjikji has worked at CHS for 10 years, and raised concern about the dire need to provide English Second Language (ESL) students with adequate resources to succeed academically. She's also complained about systematic discrimination faced by Arab American prospective teachers seeking employment with the district.
There are about 4,000 students in the district, and a majority are Arab American. The significant number of Iraqi refugees, and Arab student immigrants has increased over the years making the need for bilingual services greater.
Brinjikji has become a voice for ESL students in the district, advocating for their futures. Her concerns are parallel to those of her colleagues, who claim they’ve been met with strong resistance and discipline from the district as a response to raising awareness. The agencies have launched investigations to determine whether student diversity needs are being met.
According to Brinjikji, there's currently only one certified licensed ESL teacher in the entire district, and five or six other individuals working with the students, who aren’t licensed.
"One teacher can't possibly service all those students," she said. She added that by law all students are required to receive educational services from licensed professionals.
In addition to instructing students, the teacher is in charge of test scores and the district’s whole program for foreign students. "She's fantastic, but it’s overwhelming for her, " said CHS counselor Bill Ebbitt at a press conference held at the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee’s office. CHS counselor Joann Kohler also attended the conference expressing the same concerns as her colleagues.
Civil rights attorney Shereef Akeel stated that by law any district that accepts federal funds must meet and provide adequate resources for those students who are in need to learn English. "There's been a ugly secret here in our community with respect to the student’s needs not being met at the Crestwood District." Akeel said.
CSD Superintendent Dr. Laurine Van Valkenberg issued this statement in response to the filed complaints: “Investigations are being conducted, and I am limited in what I can share. Be assured that we are taking the complaints very seriously and cooperating with each agency. We categorically deny Mrs. Brinjikji’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation." Brinjikji remains an employee with the district, and has not been suspended.
She also says students have come forth, complaining they're not getting the adequate services in order to succeed, and as a result many have experienced difficulty moving on to the next grade level.
When some of Brinjikji’s colleagues retired she brought it to the attention of the district that it was a good time to hire certified ESL teachers. She claims because her and other staff members made the request so vocal officials at the district began retaliating with harassment. Akeel says the harassment involved being removed off email listings, called into meetings, and being presented with goals and responsibilities that were impossible to fulfill. "It's subtle ways to make the working condition unbearable, " Akeel said.
"This is a matter of concern not only to us as Arab Americans and Muslim Americans, but this is the well being and the future of our students regardless of faith, religion and national origin and that's the bottom line," said Imad Hamad, regional director of the ADC. "Well they always say that facts speak for themselves, and at the end of the day, facts will be the ultimate judge." Parents who raised concerns about the matter were also met with hostility according to reports.