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School district insists you can’t discriminate against Palestinians because Palestine doesn’t exist

New Jersey School Board officials are defending themselves in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a Palestinian-American teacher by rejecting the fact that her home country even exists.

Sireen Hashem sued the Hunterdon County school district in December 2015, after her contract at Hunterdon Central Regional High School was not renewed. The history teacher, who is Palestinian and Muslim, accused the school of firing her because of her race, national origin and religion.

Hashem said school officials prevented her from teaching topics that her non-Arab and non-Muslim colleagues taught. According to the lawsuit, the school principal, Suzanne Cooley, told Hashem “she should not mention Islam or the Middle East in her class,” and “should not bring her culture, life experience or background into the classroom.”

When she asked why she was being subjected to different treatment than other teachers, Hashem alleges she was fired in retaliation. Superintendent Christina Steffner told the teacher “she caused trouble because she was Palestinian since the day she started working,” the suit alleges. In April 2015, Hashem was told she was being “let go.”

In response to Hashem’s lawsuit, Hunterdon Central Regional High School is defending itself by insisting “Palestine is not a nation.” The teacher’s attorney told this week that the school’s legal representation, which rejected local media’s request for comment, made this argument in court.

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