The mother of a fifth-grader says her son was "humiliated and ostracized" for his Muslim faith at a Bay Ridge public school earlier this year, after a lunch aide allegedly forced him to sit alone and watch his fellow students eat while he was fasting for Ramadan.
The incident occurred this past May at P.S. 264 Bay Ridge Elementary School for the Arts. Typically, students observing Ramadan are escorted to a separate room during lunch. But according to the boy's mother, a lunch aide at the school told the 9-year-old, "I'm going to put you in the cafeteria while you are fasting and watch all the kids eat."
The directive was allegedly issued as punishment because the aide believed the boy was laughing at her, according to a suit filed this week with the NYC Commission on Human Rights.
"She put him in a table alone," Zaman Mashrah, the mother, told Gothamist. "He was crying and felt helpless. In his mind, this was an adult that did this to him, so another adult would not have helped him."
Mashrah says she filed a complaint with the Department of Education's Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity Management within days of learning of the May 14th incident. By law, the agency is required to issue a written determination within 90 days of receiving a complaint. Mashrah says never heard back, prompting her to file the discrimination suit this week.
A spokesperson for the education department, Isabelle Boundy, said in a statement, "Schools must be safe, supportive and inclusive environments, and these very concerning allegations were immediately reported for investigation. We take any allegation of discrimination seriously, and will review the complaint.”
The spokesperson did not respond to questions about the apparent delay in issuing a determination.
"If the DOE was serious about this, it would not be taking them six months to investigate," said Ahmed Mohamed, litigation director Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed the complaint with the Commission on Human Rights.
"This child's classmates, who are 8 and 9 years old, immediately recognized that this staff member had done something cruel," he continued. "It's taken the DOE 177 days to even acknowledge that a serious incident occurred."
The employee is believed to still be employed at P.S. 264. As a result of the lack of action, Mashrah says she removed her son from the school this year.
"He wanted to graduate 5th grade with his friends," the mother told Gothamist. "Had the Department of Education took this matter seriously and held that employee accountable for what she did to my son, my son would have still attended that school alongside his friends."
Gothamist's inquiries to the school were not immediately returned.