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Lawsuit Filed Against Crestwood School District

March 15, 2012 by  


By Laura Fawaz, TMO

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Dearborn Heights, MI – “Crestwood High School discriminating against Arab American Students/Arab Teachers” headlined the radio show “Good Morning MI.”

This came after Hiam Brinjikji, a teacher and counselor at Crestwood High School filed complaints of employment discrimination and retaliation against the Crestwood School District.

“Brinjikji alleges that the school district has failed to hire Arab American staff to serve the increasing English language learners (ELL) and cultural needs of the Arab American students,” according to a letter sent to the three federal civil rights agencies last week by Imad Hamad, the Director and Senior National Advisor of Arab-American Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC).

ADC held a press conference at its Dearborn office Thursday to announce the complaints.  After being with the district for more than 10 years, Brinjikji filed her complaints with the U. S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the U. S. Department of Justice, as well as the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Though the Crestwood District would not comment on the charges, the Superintendent Laurine VanValkenburg did deny them in a formal letter stating: “Be assured that we are taking the complaints very seriously and are cooperating with each agency.  We categorically deny Brinjikji’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation.”

With over 4,000 students in the entire Crestwood District, the number of those coming from an Arab-American household is rising.  A hand-full of those are new to the country and speaks little, if any, English, according to an ADC statement.  Brinjikji and the members of the ADC site the problem being that the school district receives additional federal funding specifically for the sole academic requirements of these Arab American students, such as ELL classes, though do not fulfill such resources. 

“Prospective Arab American teachers are being denied the opportunities to have a career, to be able to meet the needs of these students,” said Shereef Akeel, the civil rights lawyer and advisor to ADC.  “This is a serious problem,” Akeel continued.  In addition, Brinjikji said that she has consistently faced with what she called “strong inner resistance from the district” when she expresses her concerns, claiming that she, along with some of her colleagues who also view themselves as student advocates, have been disciplined for speaking out. 

Joining Brinjikji at the press conference were two counseling colleagues, including fellow Crestwood counselor of 17 years, Bill Ebbitt.

“The students are our biggest concern,” said Ebbitt.  “When we tried to voice our concerns, so to speak, we’ve been met with resistance up to and including reprimands that none of the three of us, in a total of 75 years of experience, have ever been given before.”

With the increasing diversity in the students of the Crestwood District, they have only one teacher running the high school’s English as a Second Language (ESL) program.  Hiba ElHajj has been tasked with the job of reaching out to all of the ELL students, not just the Arab Americans, indicated by officials at Thursday’s announcement.

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