Muslim teaching assistant suing school for race discrimination over 9/11 video

25th Nov 2016
Muslim teaching assistant suing school for race discrimination over 9/11 video

Suriyah Bi, 24, was dismissed from the Heartlands Academy, when she raised concerns about 9/11 footage of people jumping to their deaths being shown to 11-year-old special needs children (Photo: Creative Commons)

Nadine Osman

A 24-year old teaching assistant who was sacked by a Birmingham school for objecting to 11-year-old special needs children being shown graphic footage of the 9/11 attacks has turned down a compensation offer from the school and has vowed to fight the case in court.

Suriyah Bi, an Oxford University graduate, was dismissed from the Heartlands Academy, when she raised concerns about the footage of people jumping to their deaths.

Bi felt it was inappropriate for her class to see footage of the attacks on the World Trade Centre.

According to Bi, the class teacher had to log-in to her personal YouTube account to override the site’s age-appropriate warning, which said the video titled Can you imagine how bad it must be up there? was unsuitable for under-18s.

The following day, Bi raised the issue, along with several other unrelated concerns. Just over an hour later she was dismissed.

The school has offered Bi £11,000 in compensation for loss of earnings, 15 months after she was first dismissed.

But Bi has rejected the payout and is seeking an apology and is prepared to take the case to a full employment tribunal in December.

She said: “I raised what I felt was a valid concern. This video was incredibly graphic – bodies were falling from the building and there were close-up shots. It was not appropriate.”

Bi, who is studying for a PhD in human geography, was dismissed from the school on September 23, 2015, less than 2 weeks after she started the job. Bi later discovered that the staff had raised concerns about her background and questioned whether she should work in schools again.

A safeguarding checklist filled out three days after her dismissal obtained by The Guardian, said Bi had raised concerns about the footage only because it offended her as a Muslim.

Bi said: “That is simply not true. What happened on 9/11 was a crime and I as a Muslim do not agree with it. To even suggest that I only raised this because of my religion is deeply offensive. My only concern was for the children, their vulnerability and an attempt at safeguarding them.”

The same document also mentioned Bi’s position as head girl at Saltley School and questioned her suitability as a teaching assistant. The school was implicated in the “Trojan Horse” affair in 2013.

Bi said: “I was made to feel like an extremist because I wanted to protect these children. I was studying at Oxford during the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair. To imply that I may have been involved just shows the level of prejudice I have experienced from management at the academy.”

Birmingham MP Liam Byrne has called for the Education Secretary to investigate the case. He added: “At every step, an unaccountable academy giant has tried to shut down and smother Suriyah Bi’s voice – and then try to have her blacklisted. Yet Suriyah’s only ‘crime’ was speaking up for children.”

The case is due to start on December 5.

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