By Kyle Meenan
First Coast News
JACKSONVILLE, FL -- They gathered in a park next to Fort Caroline Middle School for a news conference -- about two dozen Muslim students from the school, along with parents, friends, and representatives from the National Council of Christians and Jews (NCCJ), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and a Tampa spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
They had planned to meet with reporters on the grounds of the school, but a Duval County School representative said organizers hadn't followed school board regulations for applying for permission to use school property.
As they arrived, an armed guard ushered them and reporters away from the school to the adjacent park.
Most of the children were described as refugees from the First Gulf War -- now ranging in age from ten to fourteen. They are students who say they are victims of bigotry and discrimination; and were put off of their school bus by a substitute driver Wednesday afternoon.
"[The bus driver] chose a lot of Muslims." Said eighth grader Saif Alhamad. "She chose half the Muslim people off. She left like 4 or 5 American people (on the bus) and she drove off," said Alhamad.
A spokesman for CAIR decried the incident.
"The bus driver did not cite any reason for her behavior and did not indicate a valid reason for why she took the action that she did," said Ahmed Bedier of Tampa.
The unnamed First Student driver claimed students were put off the bus for misbehaving, but the students deny they were causing a problem. Bedier says even if one or two students were acting up, it was still discriminatory to put all of the Muslim children off the bus.
A representative of the NCCJ likened the incident to a modern day "Rosa Parks" violation of Civil Rights. The ACLU also says the Civil Rights of the children were clearly violated not once but twice.
The group says after Wednesday's incident, parents were outraged and complained to the Duval County School District. On Friday morning, the students say a different substitute driver came to their bus stop, allowed non-Muslim students to board the bus, and then closed the bus door in the face of the waiting Muslim students not allowing them to board the bus.
CAIR spokesman Bedier charges the bus company and School District may have promoted the actions.
"Another issue that proves that this type of activity could be or may have been promoted by the bus company itself and the school district is because after the first incident happened, parents complained, and were outraged over what happened. Not enough action was taken to deter another driver from taking similar action," said Bezier. "In fact, the action of the second driver shows that somebody was actually promoting this type of activity."
Bezier says his organization is demanding the bus company and school officials meet with him, the students and their parents to work out a formal retribution. Bezier also called for sensitivity training to be required for school bus drivers to learn more about the Muslim culture, and he said they are contemplating a lawsuit that could be filed against the two substitute drivers, their employer, the First Student Bus Company, and their contractor, the Duval County School System.
A representative of the School District says there is an active investigation into what occurred on Wednesday and Friday, adding there would be no comment over the weekend on today's allegations or demands until the matter was reviewed more thoroughly. An official response from the School District is expected Monday.
- Muslim Students Say They Are Being Discriminated Against
First Coast News