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Family says Chicago substitute teacher targeted 3rd-grader for being Palestinian

Calls for CPS to take action after boy says he was targeted for being Palestinian
Calls for CPS to take action after boy says he was targeted for being Palestinian 02:46

CHICAGO (CBS) -- A call has been issued for a quick investigation after an 8-year-old boy said a substitute teacher made offensive and inappropriate remarks to him in class.

The boy is of Palestinian heritage. As CBS 2's Jermont Terry reported Wednesday night, local Islamic leaders want the Chicago Public Schools to take action now.

As CPS students finish up their winter break, the father of 8-year-old Mahmoud Ihmud said his son is scared to go back to class – with a substitute teacher accused of targeting him for being Palestinian.

"She said that Hamas are terrorists," said Mahmoud.

Those are the words Mahmoud said his substitute teacher at Chicago Academy Elementary School, at 3400 N. Austin Ave., told him. Students were in art class when he said the sub started randomly asking their nationality.

"I was the last person. I said I was from Palestine. She said, 'Hamas are terrorists.' I was like, 'That's not true.' She was like, 'Yes it is,' I was like, 'That's not true.' She goes, 'No, it's true – and it's true, I'm going to hit you,'" said Mahmoud.

Mahmoud said the substitute insisted on telling him, and the entire third grade class, that he Hamas was killing children.

"And then I pushed her away, and then I ran back to my desk," said Mahmoud. "Then she raised her hand at me."

CBS 2's Terry asked Mahmoud to show him what the teacher did. Mahmoud demonstrated to claim the teacher raised her hand with an open palm at him.

Terry asked Mahmoud what was going through his mind when this happened.

Mahmoud: "What was going through my mind? I wanted to hit her."

Terry: "You were mad? Why were you so mad?"

Mahmoud: "She disrespected my culture."

"I was so mad," said Mahmoud's father, Tawfiq Ihmud. "For an 8-year-old boy and a teacher tell him that he knows nothing about what's going on back home - 'What's Hamas? What's terrorist.'"

Mahmoud's father set up a meeting. He met with school administrators the Wednesday before break.

"I went to the principal, and I told him, he said, 'I'm making a report on her right now,'" said Ihmud. "But I said, 'What's the reason she said to my son that?' He said, 'I have no answer for you right now.'"

The father said CPS launched an investigation.

"They told me they stopped her from going to that school, which is the Chicago Academy," said Ihmud.

Yet it is unclear if the substitute teacher has been banned entirely from working within CPS while they investigate.

"She can be in other schools. There are a lot of Palestinians, Muslims all over in different schools," said Ihmud. "They way she treated my kids - she could treat other kids the same way."

"This is not someone that should be working with children," said Maggie Slavin of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Chicago.

Since the overseas conflict, CAIR Chicago says discrimination cases with students were mostly confined to college campuses.

"This is particularly concerning," said Slavin. This is terrifying - for an 8-year-old student who, you know, doesn't have anything to do with anything."

Mahmoud's dad wants a swift investigation.

"I want her to be fired from CPS," said Ihmud.

And while Hamas is, in fact, listed by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, CAIR Chicago and the Ihmud family say it is unreasonable for the substitute, or anyone, constantly to try connecting all Palestinians to Hamas. That is why they want the employee terminated for targeting the third-grader.

The Chicago Public Schools issued this statement late Thursday:

"Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is committed to the safety and well-being of our students and takes all allegations of employee misconduct seriously. We are taking reports of this incident very seriously. Islamophobia and bias-based language has no place at our school and will not be tolerated. CPS investigates and addresses all complaints in accordance with District policies and procedures to foster safe and secure learning environments in all schools."

CPS also shared a letter that went to parents and staff from Chicago Academy Principal Joyce Pae:

Dear Chicago Academy Families and Staff, 

One of my top priorities is creating a supportive and inclusive school environment for all of our students and staff, which is why I am reaching out to notify you of an incident that occurred at our school. We received a report that a substitute teacher used Islamophobic language in one of our classrooms on Friday. Upon receiving this report, we immediately launched an investigation, and have notified the CPS Office of Student Protections and Title IX to support our school as needed. This substitute teacher has been blocked from working in our school.

I want to make it extremely clear that we are taking this incident very seriously, and that Islamophobia and bias-based language has no place at our school and will not be tolerated. 

If your child has voiced any concerns about this incident, please let us know so we can ensure their social-emotional needs are met. We will continue striving to create a welcoming school culture that enables all students to reach their full potential. If you have any questions, please contact me directly.


Principal Pae

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