By: Zach Taylor © (palestineinamerica.com/2016/05/attempted-censorship-oak-lawn/)
Last Wednesday, Hadeel, a fifth grade student at Sward Elementary in Oak Lawn, IL, was scolded by her teacher for wearing a t-shirt she said seemed “offensive.”
The t-shirt read, “Free Palestine, End the Israeli Occupation.” The teacher, Ms. Mensinga, later told Hadeel’s mother Sameria Ramadan, she acted in order to ensure her classroom remained a “safe and neutral environment for all students,” and that “anyone can say that ‘End Israeli Occupation’ can mean something else.”
Ramadan is proud of how Hadeel handled the situation the following day, when she wore a similar t-shirt to school. Mensinga scolded her privately again, and, according to Hadeel’s mother, her daughter responded, “I am wearing a shirt that says I would like Israel to stop building an illegal wall in Palestine.”
Ramadan and her two twin daughters have not had problems of censorship like this before at the school. In fact, the family admittedly holds an amiable relationship with the principal, Mrs. Gloodt.
Upon returning home from school, Hadeel notified her mother of what happened, and Ramadan was able to begin correspondence with the school’s administration and set up a meeting between her, Mensinga, and Gloodt. In the letter to Gloodt, Ramadan noted, “My daughter is Palestinian, many of our family members live in Palestine and are currently living under Israeli Occupation, so she is very well aware of the situation and experienced it first-hand.”
The family is firmly standing against this type of censorship.
“Occupation is a crime against humanity, and as an educator you should actually cheer her on, not shame her or make her feel like she is doing something wrong,” Ramadan said. “My daughters have always expressed pride in their heritage at this school, as well as their religion, and have never felt any shame in doing so. It is something I instill in my children, to be proud of who you are always. And they take it on one hundred percent.”
According to Dima Khalidi, founder and director of Palestine Legal and Cooperating Counsel with the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), public school students have the right to express political views in ways that don’t affect the safety of others or significantly disrupt the learning environment.
“This incident is, unfortunately, in line with a trend we’re seeing. Expressions of support for Palestinian human rights and freedom are portrayed as harmful to those who disagree, and censored or punished on that basis. The First Amendment does not allow such censorship, nor should we stand for such a ‘Palestine exception’ to free speech,” she said
Ramadan and her daughters are currently waiting to officially schedule their meeting with the school’s administration in order to deal with this issue. Ramadan says that in her opinion, the solution to this problem would be sensitivity training for Sward Elementary’s teachers, and that as an educator herself, it’s important to uplift student’s positive perspectives in the classroom and prevent shameful issues of censorship in the future.
Sward Elementory has not responded to Palestine in America’s request for a comment on the on-going matter.