Woodworth teacher accused of attempting to convert students to Christianity

By ZEINAB NAJM
Times-Herald Newspapers

DEARBORN — Parents attended the Dearborn Public Schools Board of Education meeting on May 8 to voice their concerns over a Woodworth Middle School teacher they say attempted to convert students to Christianity.

The teacher, who was not named due to privacy policies, teaches world religion at the school and is under investgation.

She is being accused of taking her teaching methods on Christianity too far when she shared details about her baptism, reading from her personal Bible and the way of coming to Jesus.

Also, the teacher showed a video clip from R-rated film “The Passion of the Christ” without consent from parents because of its rating.

Maysam Alie-Bazzi, DPS executive director of Staff and Student Services said the teacher was hired at the district in January and previously taught one-and-a-half years at a charter school.

All the events allegedly took place over a four-day period in the classroom which parents learned about after their children reported the incidents to them.

Fatina Abdrabboh, executive director of the American Muslim and Minority Advocacy League and attorney, said parents and the community were alarmed about the situation.

“The teacher threatened to send students to the principal’s office for their lack of respecting her religion when they attempted to speak up in class,” Abdrabboh said. “This is not the type if things that should be allowed in any school district anywhere, where it turns into a proselytization session.”

Kifaya Shami, a parent of a student who was in the classroom, explained she was concerned for her son.

“When he came home on Friday throwing up, I asked him what was wrong, and he told me he watched a video in class that made him feel uneasy,” she said. “He was able to pull up the video which I was hardly able to finish myself.

“We believe that understanding and embracing others and their beliefs is a beautiful thing. We have nothing against teaching world religions in the class; however, there are set guidelines on how it should be done.”

Shami told the board when she contacted the school principal that the explanation she got was not reassuring.

“I received a call at work from the principal giving an update on the investigation and it sounded like a bunch of excuses on the phone and not taking my concerns very seriously.”

Board Trustee Mariam Bazzi said the board does not usually make remarks during audience participation but she felt the need to on this issue.

“I agree with everyone who spoke,” she said. “There is no reason why any teacher should be preaching religion to students in the classrooms. It doesn’t matter what the religion is. It isn’t as clear cut, there needs to be a question of what the intent of the teacher was. The district is currently conducting the investigation.”

During the meeting Trustee Mary Lane apologized to the students and said she had a hard time watching the video.

“When I tried to play the video or look up photos I received a message saying ‘not in accordance with Dearborn Schools guidelines,’” she said. “It looks like there are multiple violations of our policies.

Supt. Glenn Maleyko also apologized and he agreed with everyone on the board and parents in attendance.

“It was definitely was taken very seriously immediately,” he said. “As soon as it came to our attention, action was taken. I informed the board within a day and we are going to continue to make sure we have all the details and our guidelines for a review.”

(Zeinab Najm can be reached at zeinabnajm92@gmail.com.)