Schools are meant to be places of inclusion and tolerance, a melting pot where children of all ages are exposed to new ideas and people of all origins and faiths. So it is extremely disturbing to hear of a $25 million lawsuit being filed against a New York school district which allegedly manipulated a mentally handicapped child into confessing to a terror plot – and then called the cops.
Twelve-year old Nashawn Uppal, whose family emigrated from Pakistan, was bullied by the other kids at East Islip Middle School, who called him “terrorist” and taunted him by asking what he was going to “blow up next.” The boy responded with “fence,” because that was the first thing he saw when he looked out the window. He also appears to have confused the word “terrorist” with “tourist,” as he has substantial learning disabilities and “he is unable to understand the meaning of basic words, or follow logic in sentences,” as per the school district’s own assessments – which also noted that he is generally a “sweet, well-mannered and cooperative child.”
The school responded to this abusive treatment by calling the boy into principal Mark Bernard’s office, where he and assistant principal Jason Stanton questioned the boy on the ridiculous allegations, asking him if he knew how to “make bombs,” whether he knew who “Osama” [bin Laden] was, and whether or not he was a member of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL).
They then made him write and sign not one but two confessions, tearing up the first one because it didn’t mention Daesh or bomb-making in a way that would have made the CIA proud. They then called the police and told his mother he was banned from the school for “criminal activity.” Police then searched his “locker, wallet and phone, as well as the family home and computer,” obviously finding nothing.
It’s a clear case of a school using Islamophobia as an excuse to expel a disabled child – for what reason, we may never know. But the fact that law enforcement took this outrageous “threat” seriously enough to invade a family’s privacy and to traumatize a mentally disabled child who clearly had no understanding of what he was accused of is absolutely despicable. It also highlights the fact that ableism is just as prominent a prejudice as Islamophobia. The staff at East Islip Middle School should be investigated and punished for having the audacity to treat a child in such an abhorrent fashion. Has our paranoia really reached the point that it is acceptable to accuse children of plotting terrorist acts?