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Education

Afghan family files federal civil rights complaint against Baltimore City school

A recently resettled Afghan family filed a federal civil rights complaint against a Baltimore City middle/high school describing a pattern of bullying, assault and harassment by some students and staff.

Four of the family’s five children withdrew a week ago from the Academy for College & Career Exploration in Hampden after they say school staff discouraged them from reporting further bullying or intimidation following an incident in September. The family has retained legal counsel through the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose representatives declined to name their clients due to concerns for their safety and complications to their immigration status.

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In the complaint filed Wednesday by the family’s attorney Gadeir Abbas, advocates for the family describe an incident in a school restroom in September in which a staff member locked a young woman in a restroom while several other students assaulted her and attempted to remove her hijab. Since then, the school system has taken steps to address the family’s concerns but has still failed to provide the students with a safe learning environment, said Zainab Chaudry, director for the council’s office in Maryland.

In October, Chaudry wrote an opinion piece for The Sun outlining what she said happened.

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In a statement Friday, Baltimore City school officials said they had not received a copy of the complaint until contacted by media and declined to comment on active litigation. Earlier in the fall, school administrators said they were treating the incident and a second one reported in September with the “utmost seriousness.”

In a letter to the Maryland State Department of Education, city schools CEO Sonja Santelises described how the school held a schoolwide meeting on religious attire, designed lesson plans on cultural identities and organized a restorative circle with the students implicated in the incidents. She pledged that school leaders would also create an equity action plan for the school.

Still, the family’s complaint states that the children have continued to face harassment in recent months. Food was thrown at the children and they were tripped, pushed, and taunted about their English language skills, the letter states.

The students’ father told Chaudry through a translator that he had come to the U.S. wanting an education for his daughters who are barred from schools in Afghanistan, she said.

After the Taliban takeover of the Afghan government last August, several hundred refugees have relocated to Baltimore, where advocates scrambled to add staff and find housing for them. Since then, CAIR’s office in Maryland has fielded about two dozen complaints of Muslim children assaulted in schools in 2022, about half of which involved Afghan students. More needs to be done for those children, Chaudry said.

“They’re coming from overseas, fleeing persecution and being thrust into our school systems without support,” she said. “Because of language and cultural barriers, and the traumas they’ve already experienced, it makes them a vulnerable target.”


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