A former history teacher in New Jersey claims in a lawsuit in federal court her contract wasn’t renewed because she’s Muslim.
Sireen Hashem, of Franklin Township, claims Superintendent Christina Steffner told her she had “caused trouble because she was Palestinian” since she started working at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in September 2013.
The lawsuit says her former supervisor, Robert Zywicki, told her she couldn’t teach current events in the same manner as “her non-Arab, non-Palestinian and non-Muslim colleagues” after she showed a video of Pakistani activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yusufazi to her class in October 2013.
According to the suit, Steffner and Hunterdon Central principal Suzanne Cooley accused the former teacher of discriminating against Jewish students in September 2014. She read to her students a book about the Israel-Palestinian conflict which is widely regarded as anti-Semitic and has been accused of bringing “her culture, life experience or background [as a Palestinian] into the classroom.”
The lawsuit alleges that her other supervisor, Rebecca Lucas, told her earlier this year that her contract wasn’t going to be renewed because Steffner and Cooley “wanted her gone.”
About 60 students and parents attended a meeting in June to back her, but the school board didn’t override the recommendation to not renew her contract.
Steffner said the allegations against her aren’t true and the district will fight the suit.
“I have never made a personnel decision based on any improper purpose,” Steffner said. “The statements attributed to me are factually wrong, and may even be defamatory.”
Sireen Hashem is asking for her job back and to be reimbursed for back pay, benefits and other damages.