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Father of Boy Called “Raghead Taliban” Continues Rallying Against School Board

Update: Tracy Clark, Chief Public Information Officer, tells New Times that Broward Schools launched a timely investigation into the matter and that it respects the diversity of its students and families. See below for full statement. 

In February, then-14-year-old Deyab-Houssein Wardani, a Muslim-American of Lebanese and Moroccan descent, walked into his ninth-grade French class at Cypress Bay High wearing a hoodie. In what was apparently a poor attempt at humor, teacher Maria Valdes called the student a “raghead Taliban.” Over the next few days, she would refer to him in class discussions as “the Taliban.” At home, the boy asked his dad, Youssef Wardani, what a Taliban was. He realized his teacher’s comments weren’t funny.

Ever since, the elder Wardani has been tussling with school officials, the superintendent, and Broward County School Board members.

“The same way that we can’t let ISIS win, we can’t let this ignorance win either,” Wardani says. “I’ve been here 30 years, and my wife and my kids are great Americans and great Muslims. We shouldn’t have to feel persecuted.”

Right after the incident, he says, officials waved off his complaint. He says he called the police, FBI, and White House to demand some sort of justice for his son, and it was only after weeks of complaining and the involvement of the Council on American Islamic Relations that in March, the teacher was given a five-day unpaid suspension and ordered to take diversity training.

It wasn’t enough, Wardani says. He says the suspension was essentially a “vacation” for the teacher. He has called for a yearlong suspension or firing instead. “My goal wasn’t to punish anybody,” Wardani says, but such a move would set a precedent that discrimination won’t be tolerated.

For the past eight months, the father has spoken during public comment periods at almost every School Board meeting. He uses the time to address board members about the consequences of bullying. On Facebook, Wardani has launched a page called Our Son Is Not a Raghead Taliban that he uses to raise awareness about bullying and racial stereotypes. On it, he posts pictures of Deyab-Houssein playing in the pool or wearing his Boy Scout uniform. In the wake of growing Islamophobia spurred by the rise of ISIS, Wardani argues, it is more important than ever to address discrimination. He has vowed to combat them until he takes his last breath.

Wardani says he would like to speak to students and teachers at Cypress Bay High about ethnic slurs, Muslim culture, and hurtful stereotypes. Wardani says he suggested this plan to the principal but was rebuffed. (New Times has reached out to the School Board and Cypress Bay High for comment and will update this post if we hear back.) 

“I wanted to show my son and others that being Middle Eastern or Muslim is not what they see on the news,” he says.

Wardani says that over the past few months, he has become a leader among parents unhappy with school matters who are trying to challenge the Broward County school system. Wardani says they must struggle to be heard.

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“From speaking to other parents, I know I’m not the only one” whose complaints were not taken seriously, Wardani says. “There’s a culture of telling parents that they’ll take care of it so that the parents go away — [but] they don’t.”

The next School Board meeting is December 8. Wardani will be there.

On December 2, Tracy Clark, Chief Public Information Officer, provided New Times with this statement:

Broward County Public Schools respects and values the diversity of our students, families and communities. This incident was taken seriously; the District launched an immediate investigation into the matter and brought forward the recommendation for disciplinary action, which included a five-day suspension and diversity training, at the March 17, 2015, School Board meeting. The components of the discipline determined for the individual have been completed. The District strives to address disciplinary action in timely manner, with consideration of the principles of progressive discipline and due process set forth in Board policy, collective bargaining agreements and Florida law.

The District recognizes the importance of engaging and involving parents in the educational process. Parents are encouraged to work with teachers and school staff to resolve problems. If concerns are not met to satisfaction, the Office of Service Quality is devoted to assisting parents and resolving issues in a caring, helpful and professional manner. This office works directly with schools to provide support in addressing parental questions and concerns, and quickly resolving any issues that may be hindering their child’s success in school.

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