(CNN) — A New Jersey assistant teacher was suspended by the Ridgefield School District after an alleged incident last week in which an American Muslim student claimed he was called a terrorist after asking a question during math class.
The school district did not describe what happened, but said the staff member is suspended while it conducts a full investigation into the matter.
Mohammed Zubi, a senior at Ridgefield Memorial High School, said the class was working on a project. last Wednesday, and raised his hand to ask if the students could have more time to finish the homework, when the assistant professor reportedly responded by saying, “We don’t negotiate with terrorists.”
“I was looking around, speechless, completely shocked,” Zubi told CNN. He said that the whole class heard the exchange and asked the girl behind him to make sure that was what the assistant teacher had said, and she confirmed that she had heard the same thing.
Zubi, 17, said the assistant professor approached him a few minutes later, patted him on the back and said he had no such intention. “In my head I just think, what other way could I have meant that?” Zubi said.
The Ridgefield School District issued a statement Sunday saying the District “does not tolerate any discrimination whatsoever against any student or staff member.”
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In the statement, Ridgefield Public Schools Acting Superintendent Letizia Pantoliano said the District “cannot legally comment on personnel or student matters,” but wants the public to know that “the District immediately suspended the member of the staff while conducting a full investigation. “
CNN’s multiple attempts to contact the assistant professor had not been returned as of Monday.
Pantoliano also said the School District notified authorities and asked for their assistance in the matter, saying, “The District fully intends to pursue any and all legal remedies against the staff member.”
Ridgefield Police Chief Thomas Gallagher told CNN on Monday that the case was “returned to the original agency,” as Ridgefield Police found no crime associated with the incident.
“This kind of insensitive language by an authority figure is unacceptable because it perpetuates stereotypes about Arabs and Muslims,” said Friday in a statement Executive Director of the New Jersey Section of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Selaedin Maksut.
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Maksut said the New Jersey CAIR provides the Ridgefield School District with diversity training for its faculty and staff to help combat Islamophobia and bullying. “Education around Islam and Muslims for educators is necessary because even 20 years after 9/11, these ugly stereotypes continue to appear in our classrooms, and that is unacceptable,” Maksut told CNN on Monday.
Zubi said he did not return to school for almost a week after the incident. “Today I went to school for the first time,” he said Monday. “I want a public apology for myself and my family.”
CNN’s Laura Studley contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism