Peers: Student misinterpreted teacher’s message
By Jason Miller
Two more students have stepped forward to defend Concrete School District teacher Mary Janda’s claim that she did not make statements of religious intolerance last October, bringing the total number of students corroborating Janda’s version of the incident to four.
The students, who spoke with Concrete Herald March 30 on condition of anonymity, said they could understand why the misinterpretation occurred.
“A lot of times in those classes, people won’t listen. They’ll hear what they want to hear, and then try to debate it,” said one of the students.
The other student described the course of the discussion, which had centered on bullying. A student had mentioned Hitler as an example, and the conversation moved from there to the Taliban.
“Someone brought up Muslims and said they raise their children to kill. Mrs. Janda said, ‘No, no, no.’ The student perceived it wrong. She thought that Mrs. Janda was saying Muslims raised their children to kill. Mrs. Janda never said anything about Muslims raising their children to kill. We were talking about certain groups that do that,” said the student.
In February, two other students posted messages on Facebook in support of Janda’s recollection of the discussion.
On March 21, CAIR-WA invited members of the media to attend a press event during which the student who has accused Janda of making inappropriate statements was to speak. The invitation—a media advisory e-mail—included purported excerpts “from the student’s initial thoughts statement written by [the student] during lunch break in late February 2013:
“At first I didn’t want to come forward because I was afraid of retribution but now I believe that staying in the shadows will not help…I witnessed kids that I attend school with everyday make statements such as ‘who cares’, ‘what’s the big deal’, and other things like ‘it’s just a bunch of terrorists.’ At this point I couldn’t believe the things I was hearing. Is this right? The fact that students look up to their teacher for credible information is a huge matter. Such as if you tell a four year old that the moon is made of cheese and they are none the wiser although this is just play between the adult and the child, the analogy itself is what matters. Airing…personal beliefs in a classroom as a teacher however is not just play. All I wanted was a formal apology and perhaps class/seminar to be provided advisory and or preventing teachers from sharing their private opinions…people who I have never met who know nothing of the situation are quick to automatically side with this teacher. Why? Because [the teacher] is an adult and I am a minor but should that matter? Many base their beliefs solely off of my age and assume that I just misinterpreted the incident. When in actuality I am very knowledgeable in many things a substantial amount more than most of my fellow class mates because I have taken the time to acknowledge every fact of the situation…So just to make it clear this is not just a religious matter, it is a matter of what shouldn’t be taught in our schools. Think about it, you wouldn’t want your child to get a misconception due to teachers’ false accusations of a religious group. I didn’t think so.”
On March 25, Concrete Herald spoke with two Concrete K-8 teachers who are familiar with the student’s writing style, vernacular, and competency level. Speaking on condition of anonymity, both teachers stated that the writing sample was not written by the student, as CAIR-WA claimed it was. Two school administrators who know the student also were shown the thoughts statement and stated it was highly unlikely it had been written by the student. The administrators also spoke on condition of anonymity.
The discovery and the statements made by a growing number of the student’s peers who were present during the discussion casts doubt on the veracity of both the student’s claims and CAIR-WA’s claim that the writing belongs to the student, and came on the same day that CAIR-WA barred Concrete Herald from interviewing the student.
Speaking of bullying
The incident occurred on Oct. 29, 2012, in a classroom discussion between Janda and her students. Bullying was the topic of conversation, since the students had attended an anti-bullying school assembly earlier that month. According to a press release from the Seattle office for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA), a self-described Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, Janda “reportedly compared Muslims to Nazis during a class lesson on bullying. The teacher allegedly stated that ‘just like Hitler,’ Muslims train their children from birth to give their lives to Allah and are raised to be martyrs. She also allegedly stated that Muslim children are raised and taught to ‘kill innocents.’”
CAIR-WA got involved after one student’s father—a converted Muslim—heard his child’s version of the discussion and complained to the organization. CAIR-WA contacted the school district in November to inquire about the incident.
District Superintendent Barbara Hawkings conducted an investigation and responded to CAIR-WA with the results of the investigation, writing in an e-mail to CAIR-WA’s Civil Rights Coordinator Jennifer Gist, “We have completed our investigation. The incident did not involve any adopted curriculum. … We had participated in Rachel’s Challenge and staff, in conjunction with this national program, was relating stories, news items, or histories of people who have suffered at the hands of bullies as a reminder for all of us to be kind to each other. We welcome communication with the family.”
Hawkings’ brief response “pretty much dismisses our complaint altogether,” said Gist at a Feb. 19 press conference CAIR-WA called to announce it would seek a Dept. of Justice investigation.
Janda has maintained from the beginning that the student who touched off this series of events misinterpreted her remarks. In a prepared statement, Janda said that “The point I was attempting to make was the connection that people who intend on imposing their will on others are bullies … I was very clear I was not talking about Muslim believers or Arabs in general, but people who were trained to kill, groups that bombed and attacked people, and did not care that innocent people were being killed.
“When [the student] … said, ‘My father is a Muslim and these statements are not true,’ I explained to her that I was not talking about Arabs and Muslims in general, but groups that chose to impose their will by training people to intimidate and kill other people.”
ACT! comes to town
More than 450 people—about half of them from Concrete and other Upper Valley communities—filled the Concrete Assembly of God Church the evening of March 19 in support of Janda. The rally also was designed to take a closer look at CAIR.
Speaking at the rally was ACT! for America Washington Director Kerry Hooks, who was joined by Shahram Hadian, a former Muslim and founder of the Truth In Love Project. Hadian also was a candidate for governor in last year’s primary election.
ACT! was invited to speak in Concrete after Arlington community organizer Eric Archuletta—who has been working with the grassroots group Imagine Concrete since 2008—learned of the allegations against Janda and gathered a group of 14 concerned local citizens to discuss CAIR and what should be done to protect Janda’s reputation. The group voted unanimously to counter CAIR’s public relations efforts by inviting ACT! to get involved in the situation.
Attendees packed the church sanctuary and spilled into the foyer and a side room. They stood outside in the rain, lining the windows, which were opened so they could hear the speakers. More than four dozen of Janda’s former and current students attended; near the end of the rally they held up signs they’d made, with messages including “In America, accusations require proof,” “Concrete students support Ms. Janda,” and “CAIR is bullying Concrete.”
The sometimes emotional rally was tempered by the messages presented by Hooks and Hadian, who stated they were there to expose CAIR for what it really is.
“You’re not dealing with a civil rights group. That is a front,” said Hadian. “You are dealing with a group that has billions of dollars behind them from elements that want to further Islamic law.”
Hadian aired CAIR’s allegations against Janda by reading from their letter to Hawkings, and from their application to the U.S. Dept. of Justice, which included the following statement:
“This incident concerns us not only as a civil rights issue, but also as a violation of public health and safety. By making the bigoted, misinformed comments that she did, Ms. Janda put an entire classroom of students at risk of going to school in an unsafe and degraded learning environment.”
Hadian then told the crowd, “This teacher deserves the right to have her name cleared.”
CAIR-WA Community Forum
About 60 people attended a March 24 meeting at Concrete Center. Hosted by CAIR-WA’s Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari and Civil Rights Coordinator Jennifer Gist, the forum was designed to be a “heart to heart conversation with community members,” according to a press release from CAIR-WA.
Gist explained CAIR’s involvement with the case, stating that according to the student, Janda compared Muslims to Nazis.
Bukhari and Gist fielded a slew of questions during the two-hour meeting, with many of them focused on CAIR’s funding sources and agenda. At one point, attendee Linda Jordan, a teacher at Skagit Valley College, grew frustrated with the tone of the conversation and pleaded with the group to stay on point.
“We’re in danger of a teacher who is ending her career with this on her record. We have a student whose father is a Muslim and doesn’t feel safe in his community. Is there a way to dial this back? A plan is what we should come out of this meeting with. That is how we solve problems; we don’t get on teams.”
“Our intention is not to stay involved in this community beyond the resolution of this case,” said Gist.