The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

The Student News Site of Walt Whitman High School

The Black and White

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April 21, 2024

CAIR sues MCPS for violating teachers’ rights for Pro-Palestine speech

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The teachers — Argyle Middle School teacher Hajur El-Haggan, Westland Middle School teacher Anike Robinson and Takoma Park Middle School teacher Angela Wolf — had previously been placed on administrative leave for expressing alleged antisemitism regarding the Israel-Hamas war on social media and within an internal email signature.

On Feb. 15, the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a lawsuit against MCPS and the Board of Education for violating three teachers’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech. The teachers — Argyle Middle School teacher Hajur El-Haggan, Westland Middle School teacher Anike Robinson and Takoma Park Middle School teacher Angela Wolf — had previously been placed on administrative leave for expressing alleged antisemitism regarding the Israel-Hamas war on social media and within an internal email signature. The three teachers maintain that the content was in support of Palestinians broadly; CAIR is fighting to have the three teachers’ positions restored.

On Dec. 5, Robinson published numerous social media posts that MCPS officials viewed as counter to the school system’s core values. One of her posts depicted a school-related message with a graphic of a fist and the Palestine flag. The text read, “Art class outside and I have a heavy heart. Praying for justice so there might be peace.” Prior to her suspension, El-Haggan’s auto-signature for her MCPS email read, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” — an expression alleged to be coded anti-semitism. Wolf actively supports Palestinian groups on Facebook, including Free Palestine, Jews for Palestine Right of Return, Progressive Labor Party and World Socialist Web Site. Wolf also published an image of an Israeli tank pointing to the Al-Shifa neonatal intensive care unit, alluding to the October destruction that intelligence services in the U.S. and Israel allege was caused by a Palestinian misfire.

CAIR has filed three claims against the MCPS Board of Education for discrimination. The first claim states that teachers were discriminated against based on their views of the war, violating the First Amendment. The second claim, which only applies to El-Haggan, argues El-Haggan faced discrimination based on her ethnicity and religion, a violation of Title VII. The third claim declares that teachers were treated differently than others due to their views on the war, in violation of the Annotated Code of Maryland, outlawing discrimination in the employment of any person.

Sophomore Muslim Student Association member Renia Ahmed felt challenges to her beliefs silenced her from speaking out about the war, she said. 

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“It was scary, to be honest, just to know that there was that much censorship,” Ahmed said. “It didn’t come as a surprise given a lot of the other things that have happened with other Muslim student associations being censored or in other parts of the country.” 

MCPS Department of Communications Director Chris Cram published a statement stating that MCPS has had no intentions of violating the First Amendment rights of the individuals. Instead, they were responding to an alleged breach of school values, and conducted an investigation on the complaints of infringement, according to an interview with The Washington Post. 

Montgomery County Education Association member Colleen Roots, an Honors Biology teacher, is disappointed with MCPS’ actions.

“It needs to be more equitable how they apply their rules.” Roots said. “Plenty of teachers have other political statements in their signatures, like Black Lives Matter, [which] we assume now is acceptable to the district, but anything in support of peace or supporting Palestine over Israel seems to not be acceptable.”

On Feb. 15, the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington released a statement in response to CAIR’s lawsuit against MCPS. The JCRC asserted that MCPS has clear policies ensuring that educators are protected and respected on their personal and official communication channels. 

“MCPS has both the authority and the responsibility to fully and impartially investigate any potential infractions,” the JCRC wrote

On Feb. 21, members of the Maryland General Assembly House Judiciary Committee discussed whether they should remove CAIR from the Maryland Commission on Hate Crimes Response and Prevention. Attorney Dalya Attar, a sponsor of the committee supports a substitution of the CAIR representatives with those from another Muslim Commission. In their filing, she cited what she called CAIR’s anti-LGBTQ sentiment and public messaging on the Israel-Hamas war. Before the discussion, CAIR’s Maryland Director had already been suspended from the Assembly for posting about the Israel-Hamas war on social media.

Sophomore MSA member Naz Bolukasi believes that political topics should be restricted in a classroom setting with children, but outside of the classroom, teachers should be able to talk about these issues. 

“I think it’s also important that outside the classroom there is still a way for people to deal and have a space to go to and have people to talk to if they are struggling,” Bolukasi said. “I think they should 100% have the right to be expressing their ideas and how they feel about certain situations online.”

When considering MCPS regulations for speech among teachers, Roots believes MCPS needs to be clearer on what specifically teachers may or may not say. 

“It’s good that they are trying to pursue legal options in response to this because MCPS has not been transparent or fair in the way they have applied their rules for teachers,” Roots said. “Their policy for teachers is very vague, and just states teachers should conduct themselves in a professional manner.”

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