Two Broward Teachers Punished for Calling Middle Eastern Students "Terrorists"

Two Broward Teachers Punished for Calling Middle Eastern Students "Terrorists"
via Broward County Public Schools and Google Maps

When you sign up to become a schoolteacher, no one hands you a book of names you shouldn't call your students. That's because most educators have good enough sense to know referring to their kids as terrorists is almost certainly a bad idea.

Unfortunately, not everyone has good sense. This summer, the state Department of Education reprimanded two Broward County teachers at separate schools for allegedly referring to their Middle Eastern students as "terrorists" in front of the class.

Bill Whalen, a former math teacher at New River Middle School in Fort Lauderdale, was fined $750 and put on one year of probation after he stopped a student from entering his classroom during the 2014-15 school year by saying, "We don't need another terrorist in this class." The remark was apparently made in front of an Islamic eighth-grader who was "disparaged and offended" by the teacher's comment. Whalen, who resigned in lieu of termination in March 2015, also was accused of grabbing another student's shirt and forcefully pushing him out of class.

As it turns out, an eerily similar scenario played out at Western High School in Davie during the same time period. State records say Nancy Dean, a social science teacher, "used ethnically and racially insensitive language" toward students, including using the word "terrorists" to refer to students of Middle Eastern descent.

Dean, who also was investigated for "inappropriate forms of discipline," kept her job but was fined $750 and given one year of probation. Both Whalen and Dean signed settlement agreements that neither admitted nor denied any fault.

While the incidents represent recent examples of Broward teachers using insulting stereotypes, it's not exactly a new problem for the district. In 2015, Cypress Bay High School teacher Maria Valdes was suspended for a week without pay after she was accused of calling a Muslim student a "raghead Taliban." The state eventually put Valdes on two years of probation and assigned her to a mandatory cultural diversity course.

To be fair, Broward is far from the only place in America where brown students are denigrated by their teachers. In June, a Texas teacher was fired after giving a seventh-grade girl an end-of-the-year "award" for Most Likely to Become a Terrorist. Teachers also hurled the word "terrorist" at a sixth-grade refugee in Phoenix and a 12-year-old Muslim in Fort Bend.

The incidents seem to be a sign of the times. Nearly half of Muslim Americans say they've experienced at least one instance of discrimination in the past year, while Muslim children are more likely to be bullied than kids of any other religion. And bigger picture, as New Times showed in an investigation with ProPublica in June, hundreds of hate incidents have been reported in Florida — many religion-based — since Donald Trump's election.

At the very least, the U.S. Department of Education has started tracking religious discrimination of students: Data collection began last year.

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