School officials in Bristol canceled a middle school teacher's plan to have a Muslim woman talk to students about her religion over safety concerns after after the educator was threatened.
The teacher at Bristol Northeast Middle School sent a letter to parents advising them that a young Muslim woman was invited to give a presentation to students about the Islamic faith on Nov. 22. The letter described the speaker as someone who was born and raised in New York City and now lives in Connecticut. The presentation was meant to enrich the class' curriculum on world history, according to the teacher.
However, parent reactions were not what the teacher expected.
"I was made aware of it by one of our board of education commissioners who told me there were some security concerns due to threats being made at the school toward the teacher who was organizing the event," said Mayor Ellen Zoppo-Sassu.
Out of a concern for student and teacher safety, the mayor said the superintendent canceled the talk about growing up Islamic in the United States.
"I do believe that further understanding other cultures helps with tolerance, and I am disappointed that [the speaker] is not coming to Bristol," Zoppo-Sassu said. "When you're talking about how culture and different faiths interact in terms of history, in terms of culture, in terms of diversity in a community, I think that's something worth discussing."
The news of the event spread quickly on a Bristol community Facebook page and comments piled up for those for and against the event.
"Religion does not belong in public schools," one user wrote.
"Education belongs in public schools. You cannot be educated without learning about different cultures and different religions," another user wrote.
The chairperson of the Connecticut Council on American Relations (CAIR-CT), Farhan Memon, thinks part of the reaction is Islam phobia.
Memon said after hearing the news, he reached out to the school district.
"I told the superintendent [that canceling the event] was the wrong thing to do. It was a disservice to not only the students in Bristol but also to the community," Memon said. "This is not religion being taught in school in terms of proselytizing. This is religion being taught in the context of a social studies curriculum, and in that context, we should be teaching Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and any other faith in which our citizens come from and which the world believes in."
Memon said teaching religion in the context of world history and culture is important to opening minds and shouldn't be controversial.
"We're not preaching religion when we bring speakers into the classroom. We're explaining why certain people believe certain things and how it affects their daily lives," Memon said.
Zoppo-Sassu said the Board of Education met on Wednesday night to discuss the event and appropriate protocol to take in the future. She said the town is hoping to plan a community event to discuss diversity and different cultures, including religion.
NBC Connecticut reached out to the superintendent and we received a statement Thursday morning.
“It is my hope that the opinions of a few Bristol residents are not seen as the opinion of the Bristol community. There was an out-pouring of support for bringing a speaker in to support our curriculum which includes religions of the world,” Supt. Susan Kalt Moreau said in a statement. “Through a joint effort of many organizations in Bristol, we hope to present a panel discussion consisting of representatives of many religious groups where members of our community including students may learn more about how much the same we all are and the cultural differences that make us all unique.”
The Bristol Police Department said there were no threats reported to them yet regarding this matter.
NBC Connecticut reached out to the young Muslim woman who was supposed to speak at the middle school.