NJ school criticized for suspending Muslim girl attacked in ‘bias’ incident
EAST BRUNSWICK — Students and parents crowded a Board of Education meeting on Thursday night to express their anger about a fight in which a student's hijab was pulled off but both participants were suspended under the school's zero-tolerance policy.
Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey on Thursday afternoon said one of the girls was charged with simple assault, harassment, cyber harassment and disorderly conduct. The school, however, also suspended the other girl.
Mayor Brad Cohen, in a statement posted to Facebook, said the perpetrator of the fight also posted an "inflammatory statement" on Snapchat.
The two students fought after they both wanted to sit in the same seat in a common area of the school on Wednesday, according to a letter from schools superintendent Victor P. Valeski. The letter was sent out after video of the fight showed up on social media.
"Unfortunately the fight was determined to be a bias incident and was immediately reported to the East Brunswick Police Department and the County Prosecutor's Office," Valeski wrote.
In a separate message obtained by NBC New York, the superintendent said a girl screamed anti-Muslim slurs and tore the other girl's hijab off her head.
An excerpt of the video aired by NBC New York showed the two girls throwing punches. A security officer tried to break up the fight.
What upset the people who attended the meeting was that both girls were suspended. Witnesses told the board that the girl wearing the hijab was defending herself. One student said the perpetrator sprayed perfume on the other girl.
Cohen said that Board of Education policy requires punishment for both parties involved in a fight but the administration can set the level of punishment.
"It is my understanding that there was an unequal distribution of punishment given in this instance. The perpetrator was given a far worse punishment," Cohen said, adding that a rumor the Muslim girl will not be allowed to walk at graduation is not true.
Cohen said an open forum will take place in the next few days to discuss the incident.
"I hope that many residents in our community attend as we cannot allow incidents like this to define our community. We are so much better that this!" the mayor wrote.