A Fleimington high school teacher accused of discriminating against Jewish students is claiming her contract was not renewed because she is Muslim. Administrators deny the allegations.
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,” while 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 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.
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.
The suit also claims 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. 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.
“Neither the district nor I have been served with a complaint, but I have read some of Ms. Hashem's allegations against me in the media. I respect the personnel confidentiality rights of all employees, and it would be inappropriate for me to publicly comment about job performance or personnel matters,” Steffner said on Thursday.
“However, I want to very clearly state that Ms. Hashem's allegations against me are untrue,” Steffner said. “I have never made a personnel decision based on any improper purpose. The statements attributed to me are factually wrong, and may even be defamatory.”
Hashem is asking for her job back and to be reimbursed for back pay, benefits and other damages.