The police are investigating death threats sent to a 10-year-old Muslim girl at an elementary school in Massachusetts as a possible hate crime.
The student—a fifth grader at Hemenway Elementary—reported receiving two threatening notes, one found on Friday and another on Monday, in her storage bin. The notes read: “You are a terrorist,” and “I will kill you.”
In response to the note, Liz Simon, the school's principal, went to all the classrooms to call on the perpetrator to come forward and apologise. She told the students that those threatening notes could be considered as a hate crime, and then explained to them what a hate crime is. Ms Simon also sent a note to the students’ parents informing them about, as well as, condemning the incident.
“I am heartbroken and I think my whole community is because this is not just a one and done," Ms Simon said at a press conference on Wednesday. "This is something we live every single day with every single student trying to make them feel respected and included and it’s devastating that this incident occurred."
The threats also received the attention of Framingham public schools Superintendent Robert Tremblay, who called the messages in the notes “unacceptable and unwelcome in our community.”
Mr Tremblay told reporters that the hateful notes the Muslim girl received are emblematic of a bigger problem in the US.
“While it’s not great to be featured on media right now for a hate issue, I think it presents an opportunity for a bigger conversation in communities across the commonwealth," he said. "This is not a Framingham problem.”
The superintendent then noted how it is seemingly unnatural for a young student to harbour xenophobic attitudes, and that the horrific incidents beckon an opportunity to teach students about tolerance and acceptance.
“When you think about a child in fifth grade, that kind of hate — where does that come from? It’s not an innate feeling that a child would have," Mr Tremblay added. "Where is this coming from? And the concern that we have is how is it a teachable opportunity in our classroom?”
The school’s committee board chairman, Adam Freudberg, called the threats a “discriminatory hate crime.”
In recent years, incidents of bias-motivated bullying in schools have been common—particularly, for Muslim students. Since Donald Trump reached the White House some have even quoted the president’s own words.
According to a March 2017 study from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, about 42 per cent of Muslim families reported incidents where their children experienced Islamophobic bullying. The report noted that about one in four of anti-Muslim bullying incidents came from teachers or school officials.
While police are working with school officials to investigate the threatening notes, the 10-year-old who received the letters received an outpour of support from fellow students and community members. Ms Simon, Hemenway Elementary's principal, asked the students to write positive notes to their peer.
“We pride ourselves as being an inclusive, warm, caring community and I do feel that we are, but obviously, we have someone who’s not feeling respectful and is not respecting the rights of others," Ms Simon added. "So, I'm sorry."
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