What was intended to be an educational presentation about Islam turned into a controversy when threatening comments prompted school officials to cancel the event.
A teacher at Northeast Middle School in Bristol, Connecticut invited a Muslim woman to speak this month to her social studies class about Islam, as part of the school’s curriculum covering world religions.
Safety concerns for the school’s students and faculty arose after angry comments surfaced on social media, and complaints were filed to the Bristol Public Schools superintendent. The school decided to cancel the event.
The teacher sent a letter to parents saying a local Muslim woman, who is originally from New York, would be giving a presentation about her faith. The speaker started the organization YUSRA, which is aimed at empowering Muslim women.
According to the letter, the mission of the organization “is to train Muslim women to inform others about the Islamic faith and dispel misconceptions that are prevalent in today’s society.”
The Connecticut branch of the Council on American Islamic Relations posted the letter to its Facebook page saying it is aware of the issue and planned to reach out to the school system. According to its public statement, its chairperson spoke to the superintendent and was assured the school is committed to diversity education. Bristol Public Schools Superintendent Susan Kalt Moreau confirmed she spoke with the organization.
The presentation was to be a part of a series on world religions the school was planning, the superintendent’s executive assistant told CNN. The school also canceled a future presentation about Judaism that was a part of the series.
The Council on American Islamic Relations said in its online statement “canceling speakers outright emboldens individuals and organizations in Bristol who are Islamophobic and anti-Semitic.”
The school’s superintendent said the event was canceled primarily over safety concerns, although she added the majority of the feedback was expressing disappointment in the cancellation.
“It is my hope that the opinions of a few Bristol residents are not seen as the opinion of the Bristol community,” Moreau said in a statement sent to CNN. “There was an outpouring of support for bringing a speaker in to support our curriculum, which includes religions of the world.”
Moreau’s executive assistant said support came from fellow teachers, parents, members of the school board and others.
Now, the school is planning a panel discussion including representatives from several religious groups. Moreau hopes this event will allow the community to learn about how much people have in common and “the cultural differences that make us all unique.” There is no date set for the panel yet.