School district cancels Muslim public speaker amid controversy - WFSB 3 Connecticut

School district cancels Muslim public speaker amid controversy

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A Muslin woman was scheduled to speak at a Bristol middle school, but it caused controversy (WFSB) A Muslin woman was scheduled to speak at a Bristol middle school, but it caused controversy (WFSB)
BRISTOL, CT (WFSB) -

A Bristol teacher's lesson plan to have a Muslim public speaker at the middle school caused a lot of controversy in the community.

The speaker was scheduled for next Wednesday at Northeast Middle School in Bristol.

A woman who is Muslim was set to visit the school and talk about Islam in a social studies class about world religion.

The conversations became so heated that the superintendent said she had to pull the plug.

When a letter was sent home to parents last week about the event, it made its way to Facebook.

"I think it should be a choice for the kids along with the parents. I mean I don't see anything wrong with it. Why not hear about everybody else's religion and then everybody would understand everybody else, what's wrong with that,” said parent Lindsey Heinzman.

"Well I don't think religion should be taught in schools anyways, I mean if kids want religion, let them get that at home they don't need that at school,” said parent Michael Costello.

Reverend Joseph Jakum voiced his opinions on Facebook and even called the school.

"I’m a total separation of church and state,” Jakum said. "I don't believe that any religion should be teaching their faith in the school. I don't believe Christianity should be taught as a faith in the school. As far as a historical aspect and cultural aspect, I have no problem with it but the letter that went out to our parents stated that they were actually going to be sharing it looked like their faith."

Bristol Public Schools Superintendent Susan Kalt Moreau said some comments on Facebook became unsavory and threatening toward the 7th grade teacher who organized the event, so as a result, she canceled the speaker with the concern for students and staff.

Bristol police were not contacted about any threats being made.

The superintendent said the curriculum is about facts, which this lesson plan is surrounding, so she has had talks with community leaders about having a forum in the future. 

She also said the close-minded opinions of some do not represent the community.

The Connecticut Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations responded to the cancellation on Wednesday.

“I had a very positive discussion this morning with Bristol Public School Superintendent Dr. Susan Moreau,” said Farhan Memon, Chairperson of CAIR-CT. “Dr. Moreau assured me of BPS’ commitment to diversity education and the need for the entire Bristol community to learn about other cultures and religions. We are, however, concerned that Bristol Public Schools would seemingly bow to public pressure in this manner. While we appreciate that the safety of students and faculty is of paramount importance, the district should be working with the Bristol Police Department to ensure the security of the school. The police department, in turn, should be taking any true threats seriously and investigating them. Cancelling speakers outright emboldens individuals and organizations in Bristol who are Islamophobic and Anti-Semitic. It does a disservice to Bristol's students and to the community as a whole who need to learn about America's pluralism and diversity.”

In a press release, Memom went on to say “At a time when the civil liberties of Muslim Americans are under attack through policies like Trump’s Muslim Bans and with violent incidents against Muslims increasing, it is vital that school children are exposed to Islam in the context of a secular curriculum. We all need to learn about each other so that we continue to live and work harmoniously in a pluralistic society. We look forward to working with BPS to ensure that Islam is taught as a world religion in classrooms and that American Muslims can share their experiences with students.”

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