OCPS: Bridgewater teacher’s tweets do not violate policy
A Bridgewater Middle School parent who first complained about the teacher’s tweets in September 2017 feels the district’s response was inadequate.
| 5:36 p.m. March 13, 2018
West Orange Times & Observer
Twitter posts belonging to a local teacher are under scrutiny following a parent’s decision to publicly share screenshots of the tweets on Facebook.
The tweets, which may be interpreted as anti-Islamic, were written by Sundai Brown, a Bridgewater Middle School civics teacher employed by the school since 2009.
The parent who posted the screenshots, Maleha Kikhia, is a mother of two seventh-graders at Bridgewater. Kikhia said she found the teacher’s Twitter account in September 2017 once she Googled the teacher’s name after being informed that her son’s friend had overheard Brown make an inappropriate comment about immigrants.
While scrolling through Brown’s tweets and retweets, she stumbled upon several she took as being highly offensive to Muslims.
One tweet dated July 28, 2017, read: “Imams worldwide instruct Muslims to invade western countries, outbreed them, overthrow governments, kill infidels and implement sharia law.”
Another dated May 23, 2017, read: “When will we be more concerned with protecting the very lives of people than the FEELINGS of Muslims and the ‘religion’ of Islam?”
Kikhia took screenshots and contacted the school to make an official complaint and request her daughter be removed from Brown’s class.
“I was afraid for her,” she said. “When I send my child to school for eight hours a day, I would expect that if any other child at school says something to my daughter, the teacher would defend her. I don’t think that she would defend her.”
She discussed her concerns with Bridgewater Middle School Assistant Principal Nicole Mutters and was informed the case would be sent to district officials.
On Nov. 29, she followed up with an email to Mutters to inquire about the investigation’s status.
“The administration did complete the investigation and the issue was addressed appropriately with the teacher,” Mutters wrote in an email addressed to Kikhia on Dec. 7. “There is not a case number as that is not a piece of the process, and no other investigative information may be shared at this time. Please be assured we have followed through and completed the appropriate action from the school and district.”
Feeling the district’s response was unsatisfactory, on March 6, Kikhia forwarded the email thread to Gregory Moody, the district’s area superintendent for the west learning community. Moody replied with an assurance the incident was addressed appropriately.
“I didn’t get any resolution from any of it,” Kikhia said. “And everything at this point was still up and the teacher was still employed at the school. So I messaged him back to ask how was this dealt with ... and I didn’t get a response back from him. So I just want to make it clear that I didn’t just run to the media. I’ve been going through all the right channels. I emailed. I waited. It’s been months, and nobody is helping me.”
Brown’s Twitter account has since been deleted.
FREEDOM OF SPEECH
Some parents emphasized Brown is free to exercise her freedom of speech as long as it does not interfere with her teaching.
“Teachers are human, and they should have a right to do or say what they want outside of school as long as it doesn’t affect the students,” said Rhonda Walker, a mother of two students in Brown’s class. “At some point, we’re not going to have any good teachers because they can’t do anything. She’s a great teacher. She sends us emails at 11 at night. All she does is work for these kids, and you want your kids to learn from someone who is knowledgeable.”
OCPS Media Relations Manager Lorena Arias said the district does not fire its employees for their political views.
“OCPS finds the political views expressed by Ms. Sundai Brown to be offensive, and inconsistent with our mission statement and anti-discriminatory policies,” Arias wrote in an email. “However, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of all persons, including public employees, to have offensive, and even abhorrent political beliefs. … Because there are no pending allegations that Ms. Brown has acted in a discriminatory manner in the workplace to either students or colleagues, her political views, which she has made public, can have no bearing upon her current employment by OCPS no matter how offensive they may be.”
To date, the district has received two complaints about Brown, neither of which presented evidence that Brown had discriminated against her students or colleagues.
QUESTION OF ETHICS
But Kikhia believes someone harboring such extreme views should not be employed in an educational role, particularly one with daily contact with young minds.
“I believe this should be considered a violation of their code of ethics,” she said. “I already pulled my child out; she’s not at risk anymore. But my concern is for the children who are exposed to her every day. I don’t believe that she can teach and be unbiased, especially civics.
“I don’t understand how her beliefs, as extreme as they are, how she would be able to check that at the door,” she said. “To defame or share wrong information insulting a minority group of any kind; teachers should not be able to do that. I believe they should be held to a higher standard than other people because they come into contact with kids every day — kids from all different types of backgrounds, races, religions and nationalities.”