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East Boston School Changes Security after Woman Enters and Films Arab Heritage Display

posted on: May 4, 2019

SOURCE: BOSTON GLOBE

BY: TRAVIS ANDERSEN

An East Boston charter school has changed its security procedures after video surfaced online of a woman entering the school and criticizing an Arab American Heritage Month display in the lobby.

In a statement Wednesday, Excel Academy, a consortium of four charter schools that includes Excel Academy Charter High School where the incident occurred, said the school recently “became aware” of the woman’s video.

“This incident led us to reexamine and make changes to our security protocols for allowing visitors into the building,” the statement said. “We are investing in locks for our secondary interior front doors, so that all visitors will need permission to enter the building and will only be allowed to pass through the second set of doors once they have been cleared by our front office staff.”

Meanwhile in a joint statement Thursday, City Councilor Lydia Edwards, State Senator Joseph Boncore and State Representative Adrian Madaro, all of whom represent East Boston, voiced support for Excel.

“Boston’s schools prepare students of our diverse city to be members of a global and welcoming society,” the statement said. “Arab-Americans are celebrated members of our communities, whose contributions have enriched our neighborhoods. We applaud Excel Academy for honoring Arab-American Heritage Month during the month of April.”

The elected officials said they “firmly reject racism directed against any members of our community, particularly as they celebrate participation and unprecedented representation in government.”

In the woman’s video clip, she says shortly before entering the school that she wants to film “something that really bothered me.” The woman enters Excel and identifies herself to a school employee as a “concerned grandparent” who wants to film the display for someone else, adding, “I pay taxes.”

The employee replies, “Just so long as you don’t film students.”

The woman says, “Oh, no, no, no, absolutely not,” and then starts documenting the display, which says “Celebrate Arab Heritage Month” and includes photos of public figures of Arab descent, including the late Steve Jobs and US Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who’s the daughter of Palestinian immigrants.

Tlaib in January said of President Trump, “We’re gonna impeach the [expletive],” a sound bite the woman referenced in her video.

“We’re in America, man,” the woman says in the clip, shortly after panning across a display section that includes the letters “USA” and Arabic text beneath the American flag. “I don’t like this [expletive].”

As she films a photo of a smiling Tlaib, the woman says, “and there she is — the one who wants to impeach the [expletive]. OK? So, this is not good.”

The woman later reads another section of text that says, “Muslims introduced learning centers that revolutionized philosophy.” She adds, “So this is your common core, people. . . . I’m just getting sick to my stomach right now being here. And that’s it. OK? So this is your taxpayer money, where it’s going.”

In Wednesday’s statement, Excel said it has celebrated a number of different groups.

“At Excel, we thrive by recognizing and celebrating the diversity of our community,” the statement said. “We are thankful for the contributions of our Arab Student Union and other student-led affinity groups that organize various events to celebrate the cultures and histories of our student body. Such celebrations include Women’s History Month, Black History Month, Latinx Heritage Month, Mental Health Awareness Month, Arab Heritage Month, Asian/Pacific Islander Heritage Month, and LGBTQ+ History Month.”

Excel said it “condemns any action or speech that disparages the dignity of any person based on their culture, race, identity, national origin, sexual orientation, religion, immigration status, or other aspect of their identity. At Excel, we strive to be an inclusive and welcoming space for students of all backgrounds. We believe that by recognizing and celebrating the diversity of backgrounds and experiences in our community, we support all students to learn, grow, and thrive in our modern world. We will continue to affirm our commitment to these values and to support all students and families in our school.”

The woman who shot the video didn’t name herself in the clip.

But a Facebook user who identified herself as Stiletto claimed in a posting earlier this week that she shot the footage.

“I’m amazed to see the hate towards me for trying to make a point about a school having a picture of Rasheida [sic] Talieb [sic] in a public school,” Stiletto wrote. “I feel they shouldn’t teach our youth to glorify a person who threatens to impeach a sitting president. I have nothing but love & respect for people, but when I see the indoctrination of our schools happening for years . . . I felt it inappropriate during Easter month & also feel they are ripping statues & history down in order to erase history. This is the United States. I have every right to my freedom of speech. I never attacked or spread hate the way it’s coming toward me.”