Woodrow Wilson senior says he’s giving a voice to others who’ve been bullied, harassed

By Shauna Johnson
BECKLEY, W.Va. — A senior at Woodrow Wilson High School in Raleigh County wants to see all schools in West Virginia and across the United States take steps toward better addressing the underlying issues that lead to bullying and harassment in school.

Ishaq Jafary, a Woodrow Wilson senior, claims he’s been harassed at school because he’s a Muslim of Pakistani descent — harassment that he’s seen increase since Election Day.

“I felt it was necessary to give a voice to the other kids and minorities that have been bullied or harassed because of who they are or what they represent,” Jafary told MetroNews of his reasons for writing the blog posting dated Feb. 16.

“After he posted it, I guess some people told him that he should contact the West Virginia ACLU and I’m really glad that he did,” said Jamie Lynn Crofts, legal director for the ACLU of West Virginia.

Both the ACLU of West Virginia and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the U.S., are now asking for information from both the Raleigh County school system and Woodrow Wilson High School on discrimination policies along with details on how investigations into alleged discrimination have been handled at the school this year.

“When we get the information from the school, I’m going to review it and try to figure what, if any, type of investigation went into these incidents of harassment and, from there, we’ll assess what the best way to go forward is,” Crofts explained.

A call for comment from Raleigh County Superintendent David Price had not been returned to MetroNews as of early Wednesday afternoon.

Price told the Beckley Register-Herald this week administrators take reports of harassment in schools “very seriously.”

“I feel like they’ve addressed it (the harassment), but they haven’t done anything to resolve it,” said Jafary, the son of Cindy Jafary, president of the Raleigh County Board of Education.

On Feb. 15, Jafary said a group of students at school called him a “suicide bomber” and chanted “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is great.” Several pushes followed when he confronted the students, in Jafary’s account, before an administrator got involved.

He and the other students were suspended for two days.

“When they wrote us up, they gave us the same punishment. They wrote it as: disruptive behavior which is, like, a Level I offense, but Level III is discrimination and that’s what I felt it should have been,” Jafary said.

“I feel like most schools, they don’t want an issue of religious or racial harassment to go on their record, so they just sweep it under the rug and name it something else.”

“We’re very concerned anytime any student is harassed for any reason,” Ron Cantley, principal at Woodrow Wilson High School, told the Beckley Register-Herald. He said all reports of harassment are taken seriously.

Last year, Jafary said a teacher at a model United Nations harassed him and a cousin when they chose to represent Pakistan, largely due to their family’s heritage.

“Why are these two even in here? They’re the terrorists,” Jafary claimed the teacher told the entire session.

After hearing Jafary’s story, Crofts said she sent a letter to all school superintendents in West Virginia reminding them of their obligations to prevent bullying and harassment.

“Under state and federal law, schools have pretty specific requirements on how to deal with harassment and, right now, I just want to make sure that the school is following those requirements,” she said Wednesday.

Overall, Jafary said, he’s seen limited harassment as a student in Raleigh County over the years.

“Usually it’s a pretty rare occurrence,” he said. “When I got in high school, it was a little more frequent and, after the election, it got a lot more frequent.”

Jafary has plans to major in biology at West Virginia University after graduating from Woodrow Wilson. Eventually, he said, he’d possibly like to become a dentist.

He described being called a “suicide bomber” or “terrorist” as “frustrating.”

“(In) My family — there’s like ten-plus doctors, we’ve served this community for 20, 30 years and to see someone discriminate just because of what you are, not because of what you’ve done is kind of sad,” Jafary said.